Meredith Angwin is a devoted nuclear advocate and author of the recent award-winning book Campaigning for Clean Air. This book is designed to help people get started with their own nuclear advocacy. She serves as one of two Vermont representatives to the steering committee of the Consumer Liaison Group of ISO-NE, New England’s grid operator. She also writes at her blog Yes Vermont Yankee, is a guest writer for Energy Northwest and the American Nuclear Society blogs, and writes for Nuclear Engineering International Magazine in Britain. She received a President’s Citation award from the American Nuclear Society for her outreach work.
Meredith speaks to groups, organizes pro-nuclear rallies and does everything she can to help “move the needle” to community support of nuclear energy. But she wasn’t always a nuclear advocate. For most of her life, she says, she was a nerd.
Meredith holds an M.S. in physical chemistry from UChicago. In her long research career, she worked on corrosion control for nuclear plants, was an inventor on several patents in pollution control for fossil fuels, and was one of the first women to be a project manager at EPRI (Electric Power Research Institute). While at EPRI she transitioned from working with the renewables group to the nuclear group after she became personally in favor of nuclear.
She explains that her upbringing in Chicago was relatively pro-nuclear energy. “It was coal country. Apartment buildings burned coal, which was dumped on the sidewalks and shoveled into the coal chutes by the building’s superintendent. We had to be careful to not track coal dust into the house. Everything was dirty, including the air. I always had a bad feeling about it, like I knew something was wrong.”
Her earliest ideas about nuclear were partly formed because she was fascinated by Einstein and relativity. Her parents were divorced; for Sunday visitation her father often took her to the Museum of Science and Industry. It was close to her home, free admission, and she loved it.
She lived with her mother, who was an active member of the anti-nuclear-bomb group, SANE. However, her mother also admired Admiral Rickover, a Jewish officer in the U.S. Navy who directed development of naval nuclear propulsion as director of Naval Reactors. “My mother always had a clear idea of the difference between weapons and the use of the atom for power production. I was very excited when I watched someone on TV saying that the program was brought to us with ‘power from the atom,’ for the first time.”
“My mother admired Admiral Rickover because he was making submarines well equipped and excellent. Wolfpack subs from the Germans had been ruling the roost until late in WWII, which ended the same year that I was born. Rickover made our submarines better than the subs the Germans had. So I really had a positive view of nuclear as it was used for sub propulsion from the beginning, since my mother had no issue in supporting Admiral Rickover and simultaneously being against atmospheric testing.”
In college, she became interested in geology and geochemistry. Her interest narrowed to geothermal energy in particular, and she graduated hoping to work in geothermal. She married George, who was a math major and had an NSF fellowship for his Ph.D. in math.
She was eager to work as a chemist, but two kids and a move to Normal, Illinois (where her husband was a professor) got her career off to a rocky start. There wasn’t a lot of chemistry going on in Normal at that time, so work options were limited. After many discussions, George and Meredith decided to relocate to an area of the country where there was more opportunity for both of them to have careers.
“We moved to California where I wanted to work in renewable energy, specifically in geothermal. I got some consulting gigs in that area, but no steady job. I did get a steady job attempting to clean up California photochemical smog, by stopping NOx. Carl Moyer of Acurex was a major influence on my life. I worked with him. After he passed on, far too young, California named an air quality control program after him.”
Finally, her dream job came -- working in the Renewable Resource division of the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto. She was of the first women Project Managers at EPRI.
“As time went on, I realized it wasn’t really a dream job. I became more and more clear that renewables weren’t going to be able to have enough energy for all of society. I felt bad. Then I began working with the nuclear group on nuclear corrosion problems similar to some in geothermal. When they asked me to switch to their group, I switched. I was mostly for nuclear, but I still had my doubts.“
“Like Heather, working in nuclear didn’t mean I was sold or gung-ho yet. That took a while. I was vaguely positive due to my mother’s support of Rickover, but I was like ‘what will they do with the waste’ and so forth. Much of the group I joined was from the Nuclear Navy, and I was from the renewables group at EPRI. And a woman at that. And doubting various things about nuclear. I was not always comfortable. I appreciated Heather’s honesty in saying she “completely annoyed all [her] co-workers” when she first joined nuclear. Yeah, me too!” http://www.generationatomic.org/faces_of_nuclear_heather_matteson
In her very limited spare time with a job and two kids, Meredith was in a writer’s group and wrote poetry, short stories, magazine articles and essays. “I learned a lot about writing. But no activism yet -- still just-nerdy.
“I think most nuclear advocates start by learning about nuclear, as I did at EPRI. After annoying my colleagues with questions long enough, and reading a lot, I become personally in favor of nuclear energy.”
After she left EPRI, she started a small consulting company that consulted on nuclear corrosion problems. Later, she and George moved to Vermont to be closer to their kids. “A local man, Howard Shaffer, had written a pro-nuclear letter in the paper. I contacted him and asked if he would review my book, a mystery set in a nuclear plant, for technical accuracy. He said yes, but he wanted me to come with him to some meetings about Vermont Yankee. I did and was appalled. I began writing some letters to the editor, and even speaking at some of the Public Comments section at the meetings. I was definitely stepping out of my comfort zone.”
She began her blog, “Yes Vermont Yankee.” The idea to write Campaigning for Clean Air came to her when she received emails from people who’d read her blog, asking to know more about how she approached her work. “I realized that there was no guidance for being a nuclear advocate. I didn’t want to keep writing long emails to nuclear supporters: I wanted to do something that many people would read.”
In her book, Meredith encourages nuclear advocates to stand up for nuclear in public, whether in print or in person. “My book is about ‘advocacy for the shy’ -- about writing letters, op-eds, etc. Everything you do counts. When you stand up for nuclear, it means other people will also stand up for nuclear. Even if you don’t feel very brave, what you do encourages others that they are not alone. Eventually, you will push out of your comfort zone and speak in public. That is important too, but it’s rare to begin there.”
Campaigning for Clean Air guides nuclear advocates on their advocacy journey. It’s a comprehensive roadmap for anyone looking to join the nuclear energy cause that offers insight about how begin being an advocate. She covers a range of skill sets from public speaking to outreach in order to inspire the work of new advocates.
“I would say that you should take as long as you need to feel certain that nuclear is a good thing. Read books, read blogs, think it through. But once you are pro-nuclear, do something about it. Don’t take as long as I did to begin taking action. The climate, air pollution, and people living in poverty -- can’t wait.”
There is a growing group of people who appreciate and understand the many benefits of nuclear and its necessity as an energy source, but don’t know how to spread the message -- yet. Meredith sees this group as the future of the nuclear energy cause.
“Get together with pro-nuclear friends. Have brownies and coffee (or pizza and beer) and discuss what you’re doing. Friendship is an important part of pro-nuclear advocacy. In many places, anti-nuclear people have dominated the public discourse. You need to be with your friends in order to have the strength to stand up to this. Repair the brownie deficit. Start a group -- it doesn’t matter if it’s formal or informal. This is important.”
You can buy Meredith’s book, Campaigning for Clean Air, here: https://www.amazon.com/Campaigning-Clean-Air-Strategies-Pro-Nuclear-ebook/dp/B01MA5GU9Q/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1476806189&sr=1-1&keywords=angwin&refinements=p_n_feature_browse-bin:618073011