[00:00:00] Meredith Angwin: The first thing is to show up so that people know that it’s okay to be pro-nuclear. That’s the first message. It’s okay to be pro nuclear. I’m here. I have kids. I have grandkids. I care about the world. I care about having trails so people can get out into nature. I care about all these. And I’m pro nuclear.
[00:00:21] Al Scott: The rational view is a weekly series hosted by me, Dr. Alan Scott, providing a rational, evidence-based perspective on important societal issues
[00:00:38] Soapbox Media: produced by soapbox media.
[00:00:42] Al Scott: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the rational view. I’m your host, Dr. Al Scott. In this episode, due to popular demand, I am lucky to be able to talk to an expert in the lifeblood of modern civilization, our electrical grid, the grid is the pulse that sustains civilization. It provides us with the energy to run our labor saving appliances. It provides us with lights, it empowers our computers, it heats our homes. It refrigerates our food. Without it, we would be tossed back to 19th century living conditions. It powers all of modern technology and allows us to communicate around the globe. The grid is also a curse. It is an industrial behemoth that emits dangerous pollution into the atmosphere.
[00:01:32] The burning of fossil fuels kills millions of people around the world every year from particulate pollution. And is one of the leading sources of greenhouse gas accumulation that’s forcing the climate into a state that hasn’t been in since our species, homo sapiens evolved about a half million years ago.
[00:01:53] My guest will tell us about the hidden fragility of our electrical grid. If you like this content, please hit “like” on your podcast app. Please share it with your friends, spread the word around, and feel free to join us on our Facebook discussion group, the rational view.
[00:02:13] As a working chemist Meredith Angwin headed projects that lowered pollution and increased reliability on the electric grid. Her work included pollution control for nitrogen oxides in gas fired combustion turbines and corrosion control in geothermal and nuclear systems. She was one of the first women to be a project manager at the electric power research Institute. In semi-retirement she became an advocate for nuclear power, one of the most environmentally sound forms of energy, began to study and take part in grid oversight and governance. For four years she served on the coordinating committee for the consumer liaison group associated with ISONE, her local grid [00:03:00] operator. She teaches courses and presents workshops on the electrical grid. Her previous major book was “Campaigning For Clean Air Strategies for Pronuclear Advocacy.” Her newest book, “Shorting the Grid, the Hidden Fragility of Our Electric Grid”, should be required reading for any politician in office today who needs to decide how to transition away from fossil fuels and fulfill our society’s obligation to future generations.
[00:03:29] She and her husband, George live in Vermont. They have two children and four grandchildren who live in the New York city area. Ms. Angwin, welcome to The Rational View.
[00:03:40] Meredith Angwin: Very glad to be here, Dr. Scott, very.
[00:03:44] Al Scott: Thank you for coming on. Could you tell us all a little bit about your background? How did you get into chemistry and then the grid?
[00:03:54] Meredith Angwin: Well, I was always interested in science and I decided to major in chemistry in college.[00:04:00] I guess one of the things about chemistry is there’s like a hundred elements. And so you can hope that if you do decent work, you can make some progress and make life better. I knew many people in physics and they seemed to be working on huge problems, cosmological problems, the theory of everything problems, and I thought, well, maybe I can do a little bit, I can’t solve these problems. It seemed all too theoretical.
[00:04:27] So anyway, I majored in chemistry and then for physical chemistry, you have to take, this is back in the day, I’m sure it may be different, but you had to take the physics course which required our calculus and differential equations before we took it. And so I, I took that course and I, and I met my husband who was in math, who also had to take that physics course and that, so we married his undergraduates, which is why we’ve been married over 50 years.
[00:04:55] Al Scott: Amazing. Then you became interested in the [00:05:00] electrical grid. How did that become a thing for you?
[00:05:03] Meredith Angwin: Well, I guess the thing is that I was interested in rocks. I mean, that’s a funny way to start, but I was interested in rocks and mineral chemistry, and I was working to my PhD in mineral chemistry and my husband and I had become a bit of rock hounds going through, you know, mind tailings and trying to find crystals and stuff like that.
[00:05:22] And then When I began working, I realized that geothermal energy was really interesting. And so I wanted to have a job in geothermal energy, and I got positions in geothermal energy. I was the one of the project managers in, in geothermal energy, the electric power research Institute.
[00:05:41] And I just, I just found that it was a really interesting mixture. In between kind of regular chemistry, knowing about the rocks of the earth and something society needed very much, which was electricity. And I was living in California around [00:06:00] that time and one of the biggest geo plants in the world is 700 or more megawatts of geothermal energy. So I had an example right in front of me and actually that’s how I got into energy. Oddly enough, you don’t get your perfect job when you start out, you don’t say, oh, I wanna be in geothermal energy, and somebody goes and hires you in geothermal energy. What I did was I got a job at Acura, which had a very heavy program in nitrogen oxide control for preventing smog, and they hoped I would work on that program, which I did. And perhaps lead the charge to getting some geothermal contracts too. And so I was working on fossil at that point and I was also doing geothermal, going out to wellheads and stuff. And then when I moved to the electric power research Institute to be a project manager then I was in geothermal. It turned out that some of the problems we had were similar to some corrosion problems in nuclear. So [00:07:00] I began meeting nuclear people.
[00:07:02] Now I wasn’t against nuclear, but I didn’t get up in the morning and say, oh, I wanna work in nuclear. I was, I wanna work in geothermal, but I began to really appreciate nuclear. And also I kept being asked to evaluate whether EPRI should spend, well not just me, but others, but should spend its research money on other areas of geothermals. For example, there’s something called the geo pressure zone down in the Gulf coast, which is basically you could call it lousy gas wells with hot water. But the idea is that somehow we could, we could exploit it as geothermal. And then there was the Los Alamos hot, dry rock project. So we were running around doing all this evaluation as well as organizing our own contracts about corrosion and stuff. I began to realize how limited they were.
[00:07:53] And so when I began working with the nuclear group, I really saw that as an [00:08:00] opportunity to make a difference on a bigger scale. So I guess it’s kind of an odd way to go into this, but that’s where it was. Now you understand that all this stuff I’m doing, all of it was about materials. I’m a chemist, you know, and you know corrosion control, pollution control. When I came out, I came to the conclusion that nuclear was the most non-intrusive and most easy to be widely deployed, clean technologies. So that was great. And when I moved out here I was sort of semi-retired and I decided, I’ve always written a bit, and I decided to write a mystery story set in a nuclear plant. So I gathered myself together to do that and I wrote it. Then I had to find somebody who worked in a nuclear plant to review it. So I did, I found Howard Chafer and he would review it for me. Now that’s a big thing to ask someone, could you read this whole [00:09:00] book and, you know, please review?
[00:09:02] So anyway, he said, well, if I do that, I want you to come with me to some of the hearings. I’m like, okay, sounds good. Well, at the hearings, I realized how extraordinarily slanted they were to the anti-nuclear groups. I mean, it was a mess. Oh, they were for example public service, board hearings, NRC hearings and the anti-nuclear people came out in force in costumes. They had no particular problem with shouting and interrupting. At one point I saw an anti-nuclear representative actually trying to pull the microphone away from the moderator at a public… I mean, I was like, whoa, who knew this stuff was going on? And so I became a pro nuclear advocate because Howard introduced me to this whole world, and in the [00:10:00] course of being a pronuclear advocate, I just, I like to write and, and I felt what was going on with Vermont Yankee, didn’t get enough space in the newspapers and stuff, it also got slanted coverage in my opinion, and so I began blogging about it. Well, one of the things is the power plant had interactions with the grid. So I was kind of learning about the grid one blog post at a time, and a man who was in the consumer liaison group was reading my blog, and he said, why don’t you join the consumer liaison group for the grid operator? He said, well, I guess so, that could be good.
[00:10:37] At any rate, so that is how I joined them. And that’s where my education began in honesty, not just one blog post at a time, trying to figure out what they were saying. You know, because you read something about the grid it’s nowadays, I think I’m gonna be boastful here, but I think my book “Shorting the Grid” and his glossary helps you understand [00:11:00] things. But back then you see a headline and you go like, yeah, what do they need? What does not allowed to de-list from four capacity auction actually mean? Yeah.
[00:11:13] Al Scott: Yes, it’s a lot of terminology and well, once you get on the inside, you can maybe explain that better. So you’ve written a lot on the grid. Your book is focused on the grid. Your book is a warning about the grid fragility. You call the grid fragile. What do you mean by that?
[00:11:33] Meredith Angwin: Yes, that’s a really good question. One of the things is that we tend to look at things in this on, off, black, white, whatever. And what is actually happened is things can begin to go downhill and become more fragile.
[00:11:50] So here I have a water bottle, you know, a usual kind of plastic water bottle here. And if I drop it on the floor, I can pick it up again. It’s not particularly fragile. [00:12:00] If it was a very cleverly made very thin wine glass, which would be a silly thing to have here first thing in the morning, but if I dropped it on floor, it might break. It would be fragile. So the thing is that the grid is becoming more fragile. It is moving from the plastic water bottle that is sturdy to the wine glass situation. It’s taking less and less to cause problems on the grid.
[00:12:25] And so let me give you an example of that. It is not unusual for Vermont to have very cold weather in the winter. This is not unusual. And we have to look at that and say, and yet, in what was really a fairly ordinary cold snap that lasted like six days instead of four, we came very close to having rolling in blackouts. And I write about that at the beginning of my book, because the grid is becoming more fragile. Or for example, let’s look at [00:13:00] Texas right now. Well, it’s always so much fun, but let’s look at that. They are concerned. They were very concerned about having enough energy, electricity on the grid for a hot spell in May. I mean, or let’s look at California. One of my friends in California wrote me something like the flex alert say I’m supposed to minimize my electricity use between 4:00 and 9:00 PM during this hot spell, I’m a single mother, I come home from work and I cook and that’s what I do. Don’t judge me as, you know, somebody who’s trying to break something.
[00:13:36] So that’s what I mean by fragile, less and less can bring problems.
[00:13:40] Al Scott: So, and why is this? Why is the grid becoming more fragile?
[00:13:45] You know, we have good engineers working on the grid. They should know what the problems are. First of all, what is the cause of the fragility?
[00:13:54] Meredith Angwin: Well, there’s different reasons. That fragility that I write about is what’s [00:14:00] called lack of resource adequacy; that is there just aren’t enough power plants on the grid or the power plants are on the grid, but they can’t get fuel. And therefore the grid operator, in order to keep the whole grid up, will basically turn off a part of the grid and then turn that back on and then turn off another part of the grid. So one part is blacked out for an hour or two and then that gets back online and the next part is blackout for an hour or two.
[00:14:33] So the blackout rolls from one physical area to another. So that’s why they call it rolling blackouts. Now it’s here, now it’s there.
[00:14:41] Al Scott: Now, is that actually occurring somewhere? Are they implementing rolling blackouts anywhere?
[00:14:44] Meredith Angwin: I don’t know if they’re doing that right now. They tried to implement them in Texas last February. And they occasionally implement them in California, a little too often in my opinion. And then if you can read past the jargon and when Midwest [00:15:00] system operator worries about what’s gonna happen in the Midwest this summer. They’re talking about that, doing that sort of thing again, you know, they call it different things. They call it load shedding, they call it emergency measures, all kinds of things. But yes, rolling blackouts have happen in California in situations that I didn’t consider to be all that dire. Okay. And that’s what I mean by fragile. We were about one or one and a half days away from them. If the cold hadn’t broken in new England, it does get cold in new England. This is not a surprise. Texas ended up implementing rolling blackouts, but then they couldn’t roll them. They actually had too little energy on the grid and too many problems happening. So they couldn’t actually roll them. So people were out of power for 48 hours. The rolling blackouts are something that the grid operator can control. When you actually have a whole area that [00:16:00] goes out, it blacks out, and you have to blackstart it. That means that you have to begin bringing up the grid in a controlled way. And it’s not just an area that you assign to be blacked out then. That’s what happened in Texas. Yes. Rolling blackouts are a thing. And they are more likely in my opinion. To be a bigger and bigger thing in the future. And as I say, there’s always a problem that you can Institute the rolling blackout, and then you discover that you’re actually in a real blackout for a while, like what happened in Texas.
[00:16:35] Al Scott: And what is it about the cold that causes this problem? Is it heating, electrical heating or what?
[00:16:41] Meredith Angwin: There’s a lot of different things that cause this problem. Let me talk about texas and New England, because these are two different causes for this problem.
[00:16:53] The first thing is that in cold weather, both in Texas and in New England, you end up with [00:17:00] more demand on the grid. And in Texas, a lot of people have electrical heating. Up here in New England people don’t have electrical heating. It would be insanely expensive. But when the weather is really bad… I mean, a lot of our houses up here in new England are older are drafty, and when we get right down to it the weather is bad. Tons of people have little extra space heaters in one part of the house or another, because otherwise the house would be unbearable when it gets to be 20 [degrees] or below. So in either case you have extra demand on the grid in the winter. Now one of the things, both in New England and in Texas, it worked out differently in the two places, is that we have gotten grids, we are growing grids that have what I call the fatal trifecta. How do you make a grid fragile? And the three things in the fatal trifecta is you [00:18:00] put in a lot of renewables that go on and off when they want to, not, when the load is there, then you back up those renewables with natural gas, which delivered just in time through pipelines that have only a certain ability to deliver it. There’s no fuel stored on site. And then the third thing is that you count on the neighbors to help you. And really that was just a joke because when you get right down to it, the neighbors are having the same weather. And if you wanna look at that in Europe, counting on the neighbors to help you as a geopolitical implications, you know. You know, if I say gas is just in time and the pipeline can only carry so much, I’m not actually concerned that somebody who hates New England is gonna turn off the gas in that pipeline.
[00:18:47] But anyway, so one of the things is we’ve got the renewables that go on and off when they want to. And you can see in Texas that there were 40 gigawatts of wind [00:19:00] at one point, quite a lot of wind on the grid at one point. But then the wind died down and so the natural gas had to make up for the lack of wind. Okay. So they ramped up a natural gas cuz the wind had died down. That’s how it’s planned to operate. If the renewable goes offline, natural gas, which is called a fast response system begins ramping itself up. And the trouble was that it was in New England; a lot of our natural gas was diverted for home heating. Okay. So there’s demand on the grid in New England because we have little space heaters, but there’s also demand on the natural gas. And the natural gas for home heating has priority. So a power plant may not be able to get natural gas because it’s the home heating, natural gas contracts are what’s [00:20:00] called firm. And most of the power plant contracts are what’s called interruptable. And anyway, so, there was a lack of natural gas available for the power plants. In Texas there was lack of natural gas available simply because they have become so dependent on natural gas. It’s only like 50% of our usual energy in New England. It seems to be much higher in Texas. And I just wanted to say that our grid operator had put together a winter reliability program. And the winter reliability program consisted of buying oil to be stored at what’s called dual fired natural gas plants, plants that could burn oil or natural gas.
[00:20:50] And so you could have oil stored on site. Fuel stored on site at a natural gas plant. And this is basically what saved the [00:21:00] grid. When I say there was oil stored on site at some natural gas plants and so we were using some natural gas when the plants couldn’t, we were using oil when the plants couldn’t get natural gas, the grid was operating on 30% oil pipe. It was 30% of the electricity was coming from oil. Most of the time on our grid, zero to 1% comes from oil. So you see that this oil just saved the grid. Okay. Unfortunately it was a very long cold stamp and the oil stored on site was only a day or two away from running out also. So that was a very unpleasant scenario.
[00:21:45] Meanwhile, in Texas I’m gonna say that they didn’t have a oil stored on site program. But one of the things that they did end up having was weather related problems with natural gas delivery and so forth. We’re pretty good about [00:22:00] winterizing here. So that wasn’t one of our major problems.
[00:22:04] Al Scott: Yeah, it’s interesting because the whole grid transition is based on the need to get rid of burning of fossil fuels to minimize the carbon dioxide footprint and address climate change. And one of the key transitions that has been identified is to get rid of coal, and natural gas has been used, pushed by the fossil fuel industry as the replacement for coal. They’ve said, okay, well, we’re gonna stop burning coal and we’re gonna get natural gas. And that certainly has benefits because coal has all sorts of, soot and particulate that’s really, really, really bad for health. So going from coal to gas is much better for the health of the population, but it’s still burning fossil fuels directly. And so it still has a very high carbon footprint. It’s not really a great solution. So there seems to be a polarized [00:23:00] debate about how to decarbonize the grid. And on one side, there’s the anti-nuclear, pro gas. And on the other side, there’s the group that decides that nuclear is baseload.
[00:23:12] And I’ve heard recently a lot of the anti-nuclear people saying baseload is a myth. We don’t need baseload, we’re just going to interconnect everything and the wind is blowing somewhere all the time. Is that a, you know, are we gonna eventually get there?
[00:23:30] Meredith Angwin: It’s… I’m sorry. It’s completely unreasonable.
[00:23:32] “The wind is blowing somewhere all the time” means that you’re gonna have huge overbuilding of wind turbines that can supply both their areas and storage for their areas, and some kind of giant transmission lines. And the longer the transmission line, the more waste ditches is the more of the electricity actually just doesn’t get delivered because it’s, you know, it’s busy heating up the transmission line or whatever. No that is not reasonable. [00:24:00] I am so tired of that statement about, we don’t need baseload. I mean, when I give a talk, for example I was talking to some engineering students at Oregon State, and I was showing them, this is what base load is; a base load is what’s going all the time. Okay. It’s what’s going all the time, and nuclear could provide all that base load. And then I also have some charts from New York. Basically the amount of electricity that is all the time electricity, as opposed to variable demand electricity; there’s this lovely chart of all the time electricity, base load electricity versus demand for different areas. Okay. Different areas in New York. I mean, very rural areas of New York State, New York City and so forth. With one exception where base load is 59% of the electricity, all the base load in all the other areas in New [00:25:00] York State over the course of the year 2021 was between 60 and 69% of the load. Okay. So you’re looking at 40 to 30% is the variable. And if you had all that base load in nuclear, not putting out any CO2, well, that would be great and you wouldn’t have to transition as much.
[00:25:22] Now somebody’s gonna say, oh, you need to have a hundred percent transition or it doesn’t work. I’m like, there is no such thing in this world. You can get to 80% and then it gets harder with almost anything else. As one of my friends told me about a project, the first 80% of the project takes 80% of the effort and the next 20% takes 80% of the effort. I mean, that’s kind of the way the world works, at least with everything I’ve ever done. What I’m saying is that if you could, if you could use the base load, which is 60 to 70% most places of nuclear, which is not making [00:26:00] CO2, then you could begin talking about what mixture of natural gas and renewables and batteries and stuff do we want for the low following. But nobody talks that way. They just don’t. They’re like we gotta get to a hundred percent and then we’re gonna have to get everything electrified. And so the hundred percent is actually much more than that. And of course don’t use nuclear. And I feel like… I don’t think the people who are anti-nuclear… I do not think they really care about the climate. I don’t, I’m sorry. They may say they care. They may even believe they care, but they’re not willing to actually do the work of trying to figure out what would work. I mean, I’ll push my book, “Shorting the Grid” a lot, fine. But I also encourage people to read “A Bright Future” by Joshua Goldstein and Stephan Qvist, how some countries have solved climate change. And I think it’s a very important book. What the bright future is about is what places have actually decarbonized [00:27:00] their grid. And it’s France, it’s Ontario, it’s Sweden and it’s a mixture of hydro and nuclear. That’s what’s worked. So when somebody says, we have to decarbonize and we can’t use nuclear, I’m like, are you looking at what’s worked? Or are you just saying what you think should work? What you hope will work. What you wish will work.
[00:27:23] Al Scott: They typically will at this point then go and say, well, Mark Jacobson has made a whole bunch of studies at MIT about how we’re going to interconnect everything and how we’re gonna build new hydro pump storage, and he’s got paper models of how this might work in a decade, and we should gamble our civilization on his assumptions. So I’m a little bit skeptical of that gamble.
[00:27:47] Meredith Angwin: Yeah. Well, anybody who sues people who disagree with them has lost all credibility in my mind.
[00:27:55] Al Scott: Agreed.
[00:27:55] Meredith Angwin: And, you know there’s this whole part of my book where Jacobson says [00:28:00] we will be able to use a lot of hydro without building new plants, you know, because we’ll put extra turbines in the plants we’ve built, and I’m like, are you crazy? And then he said, no, that was just a hypothesis, I didn’t actually expect that was gonna happen, it was a hypothesis. But he never said it was a hypothesis. Now, I don’t advertise this because there are areas where my knowledge is deep and areas where it’s thin. And one of the thin areas was that at one point I was doing a corrosion control project on hydro pen stocks. But I don’t consider myself a hydro expert, but I have visited hydro plants. I do have an idea of how they work. And when I read this, he says, we’re just gonna put in extra couple of turbines in. I’m like, well, is this guy for real? You know, so, but the trouble is that people want to believe what he’s saying. They really want to believe it.
[00:28:52] I mean, when I was a little girl I lived in an apartment with my mother, who was divorced, and I wanted her to get me a puppy and she wouldn’t. [00:29:00] And if someone had said to me, I can persuade your mother to get you a puppy, I would’ve believed in them. I would absolutely believe them. But the thing is I’m older now and that’s not the engineering way to do it.
[00:29:12] Al Scott: Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. it’s evidence versus, you know, assumptions. And the evidence shows that to decarbonize a grid, you need a base load of nuclear or hydro, and that’s been the case. Germany has spent, I dunno, 15 years on their energy, then breaking down nuclear power plants and building up windmills, and they have not significantly decarbonized their grid. They’re still 10 times worse than France in terms of their emission intensity, and they have the most expensive power in Europe. And now they’re basically funding the Russian war effort in Ukraine by paying for Russian gas to keep their lights on because they don’t have this backup and, you know, gambling that batteries are gonna come online and backup [00:30:00] these intermittent renewables in the next decade is… I don’t know, it seems very, very foolish, and taking a wild chance. I mean, people will say, oh, there’s 10 different technologies of batteries that are going to come and save the grid, we’re gonna pump air into underground storage areas and use pressurized air, we’re gonna stack blocks in a big gravitational tower to store energy, and batteries are gonna be grid scale before you know it. How would you address that statement? That storage is going to fill in the gaps; we’re gonna overbuild renewables by a factor of 10 so that we can charge up batteries and save the grid without nuclear.
[00:30:40] Meredith Angwin: This assumes the one thing we wanna spend our money on is overbuilding in order to get exactly the electricity mix that we think is somehow noble than other electricity mixes. Because I mean, if you wanna overbuild something, just [00:31:00] overbuild nuclear. It’s fairly straightforward and you can put it where you want. You don’t have to also build long transmission lines and so forth and so on. I mean it’s a straightforward thing. But you know, we have a lot of other needs in this world besides exactly the electricity we want, or some people want, I want nuclear. Okay. But there are people who want, you know, we want all renewables, even if we have to build 10 times as many renewables, put in four times as many batteries. When I joined equity, which is a long time ago in a galaxy far away, when I was one of about three women project managers and now they’re much more evenhanded about it, they were setting up a battery test facility. That was like, you know, 40 years ago or something. And they were setting up the battery test facility. People have been working on batteries for a long time, and that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be breakthroughs, but if you think about it, we’re asking a lot of them, right? Like we’ll charge it up [00:32:00] when the wind is blowing and then we’ll use it the next day. Okay. What do you do about winter? I mean, what do you do about winter? Sometimes there’s not much sun. Sometimes the wind is still when it’s a real cold stamp wind. Wind tends to check out because it’s like a dome of coal, like a dome of heat over you.
[00:32:18] Al Scott: Yeah, we have to electrify everything. We have to change over from fossil fuel heating and fossil fuel transportation, to electrical vehicles, to electrical heating, and to do that, the IPCC says we need to triple or quadruple our electrical grid capacity. And you know, looking at a renewables focused grid just to get to the 100% we have to ramp up by, you know, by an order of magnitude the production, and we have to ramp up batteries by several orders of magnitude. I think the global battery production capacity, annually, is on the order of [00:33:00] 300 gigawatt hours. I think that’s the order of the world’s annual battery capacity production right now. And for like a grid like New York, I think the consumption is on the order of 45 gigawatts real time. So the world’s battery production for one year would back up the New York grid for say 10 hours or one calm, cold night, effectively.
[00:33:26] Meredith Angwin: Exactly.
[00:33:27] Al Scott: The disconnect I think is, to get to a full tripled grid we’re basically turning our entire economy into a mining and production system if we’re basing it on these batteries and renewable energies. What people don’t get, I think, is that power density of nuclear fission is so many orders of magnitude higher than anything else we have. It’s just so much less mining, so much less land footprint, so much less waste. It [00:34:00] just makes sense in so many ways. But people have been frightened by the messaging of anti-nuclear groups for the last couple decades that has basically been unopposed. And your original, your earlier book, “Pro-Nuclear Advocacy,” how do you suggest we deal with this messaging problem with nuclear?
[00:34:20] Meredith Angwin: Well, there’s a lot of different ways to deal with it. But in my opinion the first thing is to show up. To show up and be pro nuclear. In other words… when I wrote that book, I mean, nowadays there’s wonderful things; there’s generation atomic, mothers for nuclear, all sorts of things. When I wrote that book there really weren’t very many prole groups at all, in terms of groups, you know, that you could join. Nationwide groups. Are you kidding? There weren’t any. And so I think the first thing is to show up so that people know that it’s okay to be pro nuclear. That’s the first message. It’s okay to be pro nuclear. I’m here, I have kids, I have [00:35:00] grandkids, I care about the world, I care about, you know, having trails so people can get out into nature. I care about all these things and I’m pro nuclear. So I guess that’s the first thing. And the second thing is much more difficult because… one of the first things you have to teach children is what to be afraid of or what not to be afraid of. I assure you from having raised two kids that a two year old is not naturally afraid of cars on the street. You have to teach them to be afraid of cars on the street. On the other hand, a two year old may be really afraid of a cat, if a cat’s stretched him. So the thing is, you can say, well, you don’t tease the cat and it’ll be okay. So you do a lot of training in raising the kid; be afraid of the electric outlet, don’t poke at it. Don’t poke at the cat. On the other hand, cars are very dangerous. [00:36:00] You know but the cat isn’t very dangerous. Otherwise the kid isn’t fit to walk to school when he becomes five years old, you know, he’s going to run away from a cat and in front of a car, this is not gonna work.
[00:36:13] So I guess the thing is that it really bothers me the amount of messaging about nuclear being dangerous. And if you can get the opposing message there from your own personal experience, then that is really worthwhile because people have to hear that message.
[00:36:36] For example, from my personal experience, I was a chemist, I worked in the lab with a lot of dangerous stuff and I find that, you know, radiation you know, working with radioactive materials is comparatively easy to measure what’s going on. It’s comparably easy to shield. I mean, my first Undergraduate honors project included carbon monoxide.
[00:36:56] I guess what I’m trying to say is [00:37:00] if you could say this from your own experience, as opposed to, you’re silly to be scared of it; don’t ever imply that their fears are totally unjustified. Just sort of say, look, if you compare it this way and compare it that way, and from my experience working in nuclear and working in a chem lab… that’s how I would approach it because really, people are running to very dangerous things because they’re afraid of phantom dangers to nuclear.
[00:37:27] Al Scott: Yes. I agree. It’s definitely an effort to put it into perspective, I think. And a lot of people will focus exclusively on the dangers of nuclear without trying to compare it to, you know, what we’re already accepting in society. There’s a huge double standard that you need to hold onto to be afraid of nuclear with respect to the current status of fossil fuels or the future status of other non-nuclear grids. There’s a lot more, I think, to be afraid of in that case. So those are very good messages.
[00:37:58] You know, science [00:38:00] and engineering are traditionally what I would call male dominated fields. Is there anything that you would like to say from your experience to young women who might be interested in entering this field but are maybe worried about discrimination?
[00:38:15] Meredith Angwin: Well, the answer is that most of the guys in the field are really, very thoughtful guys, in my opinion. Okay. They’re they’re not just out there being male chauvinist pigs. You will run into some of them, and you’ll run into some really weird ones who somehow think that if they wanna sleep with you and you turn them down, then something is wrong. I mean, there are people who will hit on you, especially when you’re a young woman. Those guys are comparatively rare though. Okay. You shouldn’t be surprised if you encounter one, but you shouldn’t assume that every guy you encounter is gonna be that way, cuz they’re not. But I would say that you have a tremendous opportunity in science to really make some progress for the world. [00:39:00] And I’ve been trying to make a collection of books about women currently in science. Because, you know, when I began reading about women in science, and I love Lise Meitner, but it’s all about, you know, Germany and private docents and not being able to get a faculty position and all this stuff from around world war II era. I wasn’t even born during world war II. I mean, I’m an old woman. So I’ve been trying to look at women who have made progress in, and contributed to the world in modern time. I really like a book called “A Lab of One’s Own” by Rita Colwell, one woman’s journey through sexism and science. She made tremendous strides toward understanding cholera and had a very distinguished career. Another, and people might think, oh, this is a bad person; “Accidentally Adamant” by Tisha Schuller. She became the head of [00:40:00] the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. And you may say, oh, that’s bad. But you know, Colorado depends on extractive industries, and, you know, she had a lot of issues about some parts of what she was doing. I like these nuanced books about now as opposed to Hitler’s Rules About Jews, and I mean, look, I’m Jewish, I get that. But what I’m trying to say is it doesn’t help me right now to my flight forward. And one thing that it’s not about nuclear, or even energy, but I feel that this book should be a companion volume to the very well known book, “Liars Poker” by Michael Lewis. And the book I’m talking about is “Damsel In Distressed, my life in the golden age of hedge funds,” by Dominique Mielle, who was a hedge fund manager. And she said distressed as opposed to distress because she [00:41:00] was working with the companies that were about to go bust, you see, and reorganizing them and stuff. That’s was her specialty in hedge funds. At any rate, I guess that’s that’s enough, but I think there are problems there, but there are people who have gone ahead and made positive contributions in modern times. Look for those books and read.
[00:41:22] Al Scott: Thank you. Those are great recommendations. Definitely look into those.
[00:41:25] So we’re getting to the end of our time slot. I really appreciated you for joining us on the rational view today. For coming on the show, I’m gonna send you a rational view t-shirt.
[00:41:33] Meredith Angwin: Great!
[00:41:34] Al Scott: So thank you so much.
[00:41:35] Meredith Angwin: I love it! I love that t-shirt.
[00:41:37] Al Scott: Oh, excellent! And before we sign off, I have a question that I ask a lot of my contributors. What science fiction interests you? What are you reading?
[00:41:46] Meredith Angwin: Well, I haven’t been reading very much science fiction recently. I think my latest science fiction book that I read was “The Three Body Problem” and that’s a while back, but it’s a very interesting book. It’s written by a man [00:42:00] in China and it includes science fiction and it includes a lot about like the cultural revolution and stuff. I thought that was great. And I’ve been reading on and off my go-to for relaxing books, a set of books that start with “His Majesty’s Dragon” by Naomi Novik. I don’t know if you’ve ever read the Hornblower books by CS Forester, “Ship Of The Line” and “Breach Of Borders” and-
[00:42:26] Al Scott: -I’m aware of them. I don’t think I’ve read all of them.
[00:42:29] Meredith Angwin: Well, they’re all set basically during the Napoleonic wars. Well, His Majesty’s Dragon assumes that there are dragons, so there’s a guy on ships and he’s fighting Napoleon, but it’s sort of like horn blower with air power. And I just find it very, very interesting. It’s. more modern in the sense that the horn builder books definitely they describe the world as people describe the world in their time.
[00:42:56] Al Scott: Oh, well, thank you for those recommendations. Again, I appreciate you coming on the [00:43:00] show. It’s been a pleasure talking with you. Thank you.
[00:43:02] Meredith Angwin: Thank you.
[00:43:07] Al Scott: If you’d like to follow up with more in-depth discussions, please come find us on Facebook at the rational view and join our discussion group. If you like what you’re hearing, please consider visiting my patron page @patron.podbean.com/therationalview. Thanks for listening.