Tag Archives: PopAtomic Studios

Art, Infrastructure, and Inspiration

By Suzy Hobbs Baker

I recently had the good fortune to visit Vogtle nuclear power plant, in Georgia, to see the ongoing construction of Units 3 and 4. The only comparable experience I’ve had was the first time I saw the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan, Mexico. It made me think long and hard about how much planning, cooperation, and hard work we humans are capable of doing. You can’t build a pyramid, or a cooling tower for that matter, without a lot of help.

The Pyramid of the Moon

This experience also got me thinking about the role of collaboration and cooperation in cultivating public interest and innovation. There are plenty of past examples, from Michelangelo’s ceiling at the Sistine Chapel to the more contemporary Kunst Haus Wien in Vienna. Architecture and infrastructure have a long history of being created with the input of artists to ensure a finished product that is both functional and beautiful.

Kunst Haus Wien

These spaces ultimately become places of inspiration for generations to come.

When I visited the Kunst Haus Wien as a child, I left with the understanding not that I was going to become an artist, but that I already was an artist. On some level I think that we are all artists (and scientists for that matter, but that’s a whole other post). Humans love things to be beautiful, interesting, and symmetrical. We see beauty in each other, in the clouds and in outer space. Aesthetics are an important part of the human experience, and as a species we have a long history of actively making the spaces we inhabit more beautiful.

The act of making a space beautiful is a way to communicate that it is somehow important. Aqueducts and bridges are good examples of critical infrastructure that historically have also been considered works of art. When I looked up at the giant containment vessel heads at Vogtle, however, it struck me that the need for humans to feel connected to this technology is not just about beauty, it’s also about prosperity.

We live in an age in which we are simultaneously more connected, and less connected, than any other time in history. I don’t think the “more connected” part takes much explanation; the Internet and subsequent technologies allow (perhaps even pressure) us to be constantly in contact with our “networks.”

It seems, however, that in our technologically-charged lives it’s easier than ever to assume that food comes from the grocery store and that electricity comes from a socket. As the world’s population booms and our career paths become increasingly specialized, it is easy to never have to think about where things come from.

The ease of use of our modern tools often means that the only time we think about where something really comes from is when we momentarily lose access to it (or the price sky rockets). I think this is why many green groups idealize “simpler times”, when people were (theoretically) more connected to and responsible for their consumption. They assume that people are only able to appreciate what they have when it’s very limited. I tend to disagree with the hypothesis that scarcity brings out the best in people—in fact, I think that it does quite the opposite.

I am all for being more responsible for our personal consumption, but I reject that the path to forging that connection is through having less. Robert Hargraves’ well-known presentation “Aim High” explains why having access to abundant electricity is one of the most important factors in living a prosperous, healthy life.

It is tempting to take a stance similar to green groups and think, “people will finally appreciate nuclear when natural gas prices rise,” but instead of leaning on fear of scarcity I think I will aim for prosperity and say that, “I’d really like to inspire people to appreciate what nuclear energy does for us now, every day.”

Art is my favorite way to inspire, but I would love to hear about other ways that readers are inspiring their communities. I recently learned about some really wonderful community outreach organized by the Savannah River ANS section—be sure to check out the “Interactive Nucleus Exhibit” at the above link.

Please let me know in the comments what inspired you to become a nuclear professional, and/or what you are doing to inspire others.

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Hobbs Baker

Suzy Hobbs Baker is the executive director of PopAtomic Studios, a nonprofit organization that conducts educational outreach through the Nuclear Literacy Project. Baker is an ANS member and a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe.

How to Survive an NRC Public Meeting

By Suzy Hobbs Baker

Several weeks ago in the quiet community of Gaffney, South Carolina, I attended a public meeting held by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to discuss the potential environmental impact of Duke Energy’s proposed William States Lee III site. About 100 anti-nuclear activists also descended on the meeting.

The funny thing about this meeting is that of the dozens of people who spoke out against the proposed nuclear plant, not a single one of them was from Cherokee County, which is the location of the Lee III site. In fact, the vast majority of them were not even native to South Carolina. This was a group of volunteers organized by professional anti-nuclear activists who were bused down from Asheville, North Carolina. Many who spoke had well-rehearsed speeches about sick children, multi-billion dollar proposals that benefitted their own solar companies, and even one very long “Occupy” chant that had little to do with anything as far as I could tell.

This is not the first time that activists based in western North Carolina have organized against nuclear projects in other communities, in other states. In fact, it has become protocol. In the past two years, activists from the Asheville area have hiked to Oak Ridge, Tenn., to protest, bused to the Savannah River Site, S.C., to speak to the Blue Ribbon Commission, flown to Florida to fight the Crystal River nuclear power plant, and donned zombie costumes in Knoxville, Tenn. I’m sure that some American Nuclear Society members have had experiences with these same activists in the past.

So, why do I care about these anti-nuclear activities, and why should you?

I’ll start by explaining why this particular meeting was important to me. The Lee nuclear project will be built 15 miles from where my husband and I just bought our first home. We are located in the rural region between Greenville and Spartanburg, S.C., near the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. This beautiful area has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, as well as one of the highest poverty rates in the state (20.6 percent in Cherokee County, more than double the national average).

A 2006 survey published in the International Journal of Nuclear Governance suggests that building a new nuclear plant is one of the best ways for a community to grow. Like the majority of local citizens, I would love to see new jobs, flourishing cultural activities, and increasing home values. Sadly, this vision for future prosperity was overshadowed by the chanting, hollering masses of activists during this particular meeting (the presence of four armed guards suggests that things have gotten quite heated during past meetings at this location).

Unfortunately, my experience was not the exception but the rule when it comes to these meetings. Anti-nuclear activists have found effective ways to disrupt the NRC’s public comment periods, and to create a false sense of community opposition to nuclear projects. This often translates into real delays in licensing and construction, increased cost, and sometimes litigation, which are serious reasons why nuclear professionals should care about how we respond as citizens and as an industry.

It would be fabulous if the NRC would implement a few common sense guidelines to make public meetings more community focused, and less of a circus. Simple steps like reserving comments at public meetings for community members, and asking out-of-state citizens to submit their comments by mail or email would add value to this process.

Of course, I don’t see this happening any time soon, so I wanted to share some tips on how to survive an NRC public meeting. Many nuclear professionals understandably avoid these meetings, but the reality is that with new nuclear builds in the works, we should all become actively engaged in this process:

  1. Take a tip from the opposition and think of public meetings as a social event. Call your like-minded friends and family; go out for a nice meal together before or after the meeting.
  2. Use your local network. Send an email out to your ANS chapter, as well as other non-profits you may be a member of (NA-YGN, WiN, etc.). The more the merrier!
  3. Call the NRC in advance and request a table. And bring cookies. Seriously, sweets go a long way in win hearts and minds. So does smiling, it’s very effective.
  4. No suits! If you are attending a public meeting as a citizen, then dress like a citizen. Grab your favorite pro-nuke t-shirt, or something colorful and casual.
  5. This is more of a lesson learned, and is a little harder to pull-off, but it can be achieved by arriving a few minutes early and asking nicely of the NRC. For example, if you have a group of a dozen people, and you all sign up to make a comment, request to be spread out through the meeting. Then, as accusations and false information arise, you can take notes and directly counter particularly inflammatory statements.

In case you are ready to go kill ‘em with kindness and cookies at the next NRC meeting, here is the schedule.

And finally—as proof that with a little planning, an NRC meeting can actually be fun—here are some pictures of our crew of nuclear supporters in Gaffney last month.

Our outreach table with free t-shirts and cookies!

From left: Suzy Hobbs Baker (PopAtomic), Jennifer Saucier (NA-YGN), Rod Adams (Atomic Insights), Kasey Baker (PopAtomic), Brian Dyke (ANS Savannah River Section)

NA-YGN Carolina Chapter