Eric Meyer is the founder and executive director of Generation Atomic, a non-profit based in Minneapolis that aims to “energize and empower today’s generations to advocate for a nuclear future.” In this episode, Robert talks to Meyer about how he went from aspiring professional opera singer to pro-nuclear activist, the “stigma” and “dogma” used by nuclear opponents, the environmental sacrifices required to scale up renewables, and why the late nuclear physicist Alvin Weinberg is among his personal heroes.
Robert Bryce 0:05
Hi, and welcome to the power hungry podcast. I’m the host of this podcast. My name is Robert Bryce, on this podcast we talk about power, energy, innovation and politics. My guest today is Eric Meyer, the founder and executive director of generation atomic. Welcome, Eric.
Eric Meyer 0:23
Thank you so much. Great to be here.
Robert Bryce 0:25
So Eric and I are going to talk about his organization generation atomic and and, in particular, about rallying younger the younger people to the cause of atomic energy. And so, Eric, we’ve known each other for a while, and I’ve heard plenty of introductions. I prefer to have people introduce themselves. So if you don’t mind, just give us the quick. I don’t know. I don’t we don’t have a hard time limit here. 30 seconds. 45 seconds. I don’t I don’t have a watch on. Go ahead.
Eric Meyer 0:56
Tell us who you are. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So I’m Eric Meyer, originally from a small town in southwestern Minnesota, very windy place, sometimes called the Saudi Arabia of wind, which I think is hilarious. Also a place that’s done quite well because of ethanol subsidies. So maybe we can get into that later. But, yeah, I originally thought maybe I was going to be a music teacher. Then for a while, I thought maybe a professional singer actually did sing professionally for a little bit. And then it became clear to me that we needed, we probably had enough opera singers in the world. And maybe we needed a few more advocates for nuclear technology. So I started this nonprofit called generation atomic in late 2016. And I’ve been advocating for nuclear ever since.
Robert Bryce 1:47
And you’re and you live in Minneapolis?
Eric Meyer 1:49
I do. Yes.
Robert Bryce 1:51
Gotcha. Okay, well, well, I do want to come back to Minnesota because I’ve been very interested in the battles over wind energy siting, in particular in freeborn. County. And so I’m sure you’re familiar with that. But let me I want to talk about generation atomic, but also since I met you, you know, you have a niece who’s an opera singer. Tell me what what are your favorite opera? Is who your favorite composers?
Eric Meyer 2:15
Yeah, absolutely. I, I don’t think anybody can write a better melody than Ben Puccini. Probably. And Johnny ski is probably my favorite in terms of age doesn’t suffer the same problems that many OPERS have in terms of being too long. being too boring being sexist in various ways. It holds up it’s just a really funny little story with some great tunes in it. So probably that one, but I love some of the really large ambitious pieces, as well. Like I’m saying Dettori door and Carmen a few times. And that’s the music is so beautiful. In that opera, even though, you know, in abstraction, you take your back away and think about the story. Oh, I don’t know if that really holds to get there. But yeah, we’ll forget about that.
Robert Bryce 3:07
Gotcha. And I’m trained as a tenor.
Eric Meyer 3:10
I’m a bass baritone. Okay, that’s kind of right in between, you know, the bass and baritone I can tell you my Sikandar pasado is a de for you want to get really technical. That’s a nice, versatile, versatile voice type. And I’ll be able, I want to get back into opera, I’ll be able to, you know, play villains into well into my 60s and 70s.
Robert Bryce 3:33
Okay, but with generation atomic, you’re trying to play the good guy, you are playing the good guy in addressing climate. So you mentioned generation atomic started in 2016. Now tell me where you are with the organization, you’re not a 501 c three,
Eric Meyer 3:47
we are a 501 c three. We also have a 501 c four arm, which is called gamma generation atomic movement, mobilizing Alliance is perhaps I don’t know the greatest acronym ever for a nuclear nonprofit. But yeah, gamma allows us to get involved with specific pieces of legislation to make endorsements of politicians that support nuclear energy. So it gives us a little more versatility in terms of our advocacy, generation atomic, the C three part is wholly dedicated to educational and kind of advocacy, capacity building aspects of nuclear advocacy. So we run educational programs, we’ve done advocacy trainings at the National Labs, we make a lot of creative social media to get get the word out. It’s all about getting more people interested in nuclear and then giving those people the tools to spread that message in their own communities.
Robert Bryce 4:45
Well, so as soon as you say that, I have to ask this cool, how successful Have you been? How do you I mean, how do you how do you rate your success then in something that is I mean, it’s the energy landscape is enormous and the issues around nuclear are, are they’re living They’re local, they’re county wide statewide, their national their International House? How do you give yourself a letter grade? Or how do you? How do you judge success in something like this,
Eric Meyer 5:11
you know, probably more more harshly than I should considering the scale of the challenge and how hard this is, you know, pushing up against 40 years of stigma and dogma and even even today, misinformation about about this energy sources so hard, it’s changing. You can’t you really can’t change people’s minds. I think we can’t force people to change their minds, you just have to kind of lead lead them right up right up to it and let them take the final step as it were. I think, you know, I think we’ve had some some successes, and kind of reframing the debate in certain areas at certain times. But it’s, for me, it’s it’s never fast enough. It’s never good enough. You know, we see, we’ve seen several nuclear closures this year. Indian Point, Fest, sanheim, Phillipsburg, so much clean energy just thrown away, gone down the drain decades before it’s time. So every time something like that happens, Dwayne Ardell, that didn’t even mention, you know, you can’t even say him all this this year has been so, so hard for nuclear. But you know, every, every time something like that happens, it feels like a big failure. And, you know, I have to like, try not to beat myself up too much about it and just get up, you know, dust yourself off and, and keep pushing. And hopefully, hopefully, at some point, we start to see more of these plants being saved and continuing to operate. For years and years, we’ve had a few wins. You know, we, we were really active in Ohio, we sent almost 10,000 postcards to legislators, they’re in support of a bill to save the nuclear plants called the zero emissions nuclear bill in 2017. And though that didn’t get passed, there was a bill that did get passed recently called HB six, which has been just mired in controversy, as you might have seen, yes. And I think that underscores the importance of doing things the right way of actually making the argument to the people and getting the people to make that argument to their elected officials that we need these power plants that they’re, they’re good for the environment, good for the economy, good for energy reliability. Because if you look the other way, it’s you’re gonna you’re gonna find, you know, repeal measures, and you’re gonna get a lot of pushback.
Robert Bryce 7:34
Well, let me follow up on that, because you mentioned Ohio and now just a few few weeks ago, Exelon announced they were going to close two of their big nuclear plants in Illinois. What are they? Oh, it’s Byron and Dresden. Justin. Yeah, right. And I did the calculations on those two plants, so 34 terawatt hours of electricity per year, that’s more than twice the output of all solar and wind in Illinois. And now Exelon is saying, well, we’re going to close them unless the state does something unless the state essentially gives us some some, some payments for keeping these plants open. So I mean, I thought about this quite a lot, and that it’s difficult to have a bake sale for Exelon, right. I mean, to tell people, you should pay extra for this. But people are used to this idea, though of tax credits for wind and solar, they get the hefty subsidies. So how do you do that, then, especially now with some of the scandal around the Ohio nuclear plants? I mean, aren’t you back footed a little bit here? And how do you respond when you say, Well, look at all this corruption in Ohio around this, I mean, this. Now, in particular, it seems like it’s a more difficult sale, am I am I wrong?
Eric Meyer 8:42
You’re not wrong at all, the nuclear industry hasn’t done us any favors, as, as activists, there’s a bill called the seija, the clean energy jobs act, which, you know, the end goal is 100% renewable by 2050, which
Robert Bryce 8:58
I’m sorry to see, CJ was where I’m sharing
Eric Meyer 9:01
that clean energy jobs act in Illinois. And it has a large coalition around it. The important part is it’s 100% clean energy by 2030. So that at least gives us some more time to fix these broken energy markets,
Robert Bryce 9:16
clean electric clean electricity in the year 2030, which is only 10 years. I mean, that’s a that’s really aggressive given given the scale of the challenge in any state, much less Illinois have a large population. So what so let me ask that question again. So I mean, how do you make that argument then that Exelon or first energy needs needs additional funding to keep the plants open? I understand from their point of view, they’re saying look, if we’re going to produce zero carbon electricity, we need to be compensated for it just like the wind guys are but how do you how do you reply?
Eric Meyer 9:49
Well, you know, to to excellence credit, and it’s it’s weird that there’s been reporting the opposite of this, but to their credit, they’ve they’ve seen to any lawmaker, you can come look at our books, this is this is what we’re missing in terms of, you know, be made made whole, from what we could have made, if we would generate this power from gas or whatever else this is, this is what we we need to do to, you know, keep our shareholders happy? Well, I think, you know, the the employees at Exelon, and a lot of the leadership there want to see these plants continue after they believe in nuclear as a technology, they care about climate change. But because it’s, you know, a private business, or a publicly traded business, I should say, they are beholden to their shareholders to make make the right economic moves. And when you’re up against a market that doesn’t value clean, reliable electricity, they’re they’re kind of backed into a corner, unfortunately, but my, you know, my argument to our our advocates for them to take action, and, you know, our suggested argument for them to contact their elected officials with is, you know, look, these, these things are the crown jewels of clean energy production, and in our state and closing them down, they will be replaced almost entirely with fossil generation, it’ll set us back decades, in terms of our climate progress. And even if you were going to replace them with clean electricity, like, you know, wind or solar, you’re talking like I crunched the numbers to you’re talking about 30 803 megawatt wind turbines. That’s just to put that into perspective. That is, I put it in, here we go Eiffel Tower equivalence, that’s 955 Eiffel Towers worth of steel. Yeah, that’s all sorry, that’s the solar number. And you can cut that out. That’s 196 Eiffel Towers worth of steel. For,
Robert Bryce 11:54
for the, for the wind for the wind turbines
Eric Meyer 11:56
for the wind. Yeah, solar is close to 1000 Eiffel Towers of steel. Right.
Robert Bryce 12:01
So I guess the other part of that, and that what, you know, a lot of what my work has lately focused on is the land use issue. And even could you even build that much? And that’s the part where, you know, the the new industry has this installed advantage. You don’t have to build more transmission lines, there’s no, it’s but but again, that’s a difficult sell to the public, right and making them understand this is not just saying we like nuclear, and we want more nuclear, it’s, we have to provide a carve out for this company, which now in the wake of the scandal with first energy in Ohio that, and that’s a hard it’s a it’s a difficult message. But let me let me come back to that. Because you mentioned these two words, stigma and dogma around nuclear, what are what are those? What are the Give me the opponent’s argument? And then and then just a quick refusal of that, or a rebuttal to that? What What do they see what what do you see is their strongest arguments?
Eric Meyer 13:00
their strongest arguments?
You know, they might point I think their strongest argument right now is probably the time it takes to build a new nuclear plants. And the economics, right? I mean, that plant and these, these arguments, while they might hold some water in the the US and some other countries, and you know, Western Europe, in the year 2020. They don’t hold water if you go back to the 1970s. Or they don’t hold water if you go to different parts of the world. So it’s not it’s not an axiom that nuclear is too slow and too expensive. We have we have made policy decisions and unfortunate business decisions over the last four decades, five decades that have made that the case. And those aren’t reversible. Or they they aren’t not reversible, I guess we can change these things. And there are a lot of companies that are trying to do this investors and people in the government elected officials that are trying to make those changes right now. It’s just it’s a long process. And it’s so you know, we’re very, we want results quickly. And I guess we’re sure,
Robert Bryce 14:13
well, and and so I didn’t ask this at the beginning. So how old are you now? Eric?
Eric Meyer 14:17
Robert Bryce 14:18
Gotcha. And you bet you start. You started this in your late 20s. No, and and this, as you point out, the government process here is one that is, is lengthy. And there it seems one of the other big hurdles in addition to telling people okay, well, we need to support these big companies who own these big reactors, because of the jobs right in Illinois. These are a lot of union jobs. And it’s a big test for the democrats in Illinois, because the Democratic Party just came out with their platform for the first time in 48 years saying we’re in favor of nuclear. But they need governmental support. And that’s the other big hurdle, isn’t it? I mean, not just that you need policy out of Washington, but you need you need that that support at the State level as well. And so you have to have a national strategy and a state strategy. How do you how do you think about that in terms of priorities? Or is it all everything all together? All at once?
Eric Meyer 15:12
Yeah, that’s I mean, that’s a that’s a great question. You know, we we support both federal action on nuclear, there’s a lot of bills, we’ve been sending emails to our elected officials about over the last several years. You know, we, we were in early and often and hard on things like naeba, the nuclear energy innovation Modernization Act neila, nuclear energy leadership Act, which it looks looks like, pretty good possibility for at least important pieces have to be included in a upcoming energy and infrastructure package. And, and other bills that have worked to modernize the way we do regulations to put more money towards research and development. That’s pretty much been all advanced nuclear, though. And that’s that’s been like the main kind of bipartisan thing. There hasn’t hasn’t been any. There hasn’t been a lot of federal action. Today, there’s been bills introduced none, none past that have incentivized continued operation of today’s nuclear plant of existing of real nuclear plants. Right, a lot of support for the paper reactors of future, but right, some support for the ones that are actually, you know, generating 55% of our clean electricity right now, on a state level. I don’t think that the state democratic parties have have really noticed that the the National Democratic Party is done a 180 on nuclear here. certainly haven’t in my State of Minnesota, where there’s still a ban on any nuclear construction. And, you know, I’m a member of the the we have the DFL here for ridiculous reasons, but it’s same as the Democratic Party, democratic farmer Labor Party. And I’m a member of the environmental caucus, and they still refuse to even discuss nuclear, because in written into the party platform of our state party, it says that the democratic party does not support nuclear energy as quote, It is not a viable energy source. Like, how can you say it isn’t viable? It’s been viable for half a century or more. But that’s, that’s their reasoning for not even entertaining discussion on it. But that’s,
Robert Bryce 17:33
that’s and that’s the dogma part of what you mentioned earlier, right, that this is difficult to change took nearly, you know, 50 years for the democrats to change their party platform, right, individual democrats with, you know, Cory Booker being among them, and a few others saying, well, we’re in favor of this, but it’s easy to say, well, we’re in favor of those in the future. But it’s harder to say we are in favor of these ones right here right now. And if they close, then we’re going to have increased co2 emissions. But let me read you know, reach back a bit. I’ve got a, you know, specific questions about your ideas about creative approaches to changing minds. But what was it that was there a moment that made you in terms of generation atomic decide? Well, this is really what I want to do was they’re obviously concerned about climate change. What What was that moment? Where was that? Weird origin story? Yeah, right. Thank you.
Eric Meyer 18:25
Yeah. Yeah, they’re, they’re, they’re what I mean, it’s hard to say like, you know, if, if I can, if I had to boil it down to one exact moment, it would, would probably be in college, a friend of mine sent me a video by a Canadian person named Gordon McDowell, who I think a lot of nuclear activists can trace their lineage back to because he made all of these amazing videos about thorium and molten salt reactors in like late 2000s, early, early teens, early 10s. And this video, because it was talking about a different type of nuclear reactor, my brain wasn’t able to attach it to the same schema of The Simpsons with the, you know, leaky oil, drums, green goo coming out, and it actually made me re examine what I knew about nuclear energy in general, just by thinking, well, there’s a different type of reactor out there. Of course, you know, I was two and a half, three years into a music degree at that point. So my, my way of contributing at that time was reaching out to him and offering to write some music for his next documentary project. So that was like my very first pro nuclear activity was writing writing kind of weird sci fi music for thorium documentary. But then, you know, like, like I said, it became clear that this that wasn’t enough. Maybe Maybe I should sing about this. So I’ve been touring with a group called the Voyagers doing the show called The Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s about eating healthy and exercising. And I thought, oh, maybe, you know, maybe we can use music to change people’s hearts and minds about about nuclear. So I started rewriting, doing parodies of some of the arias that I learned in school. So you know, so
Robert Bryce 20:26
this is where we get into the creative approaches on changing minds.
Eric Meyer 20:29
Yeah, you know, you know, tohei odd or became no clear power Ozaki, you know, universal prosperity, all of these things. And we’re
Robert Bryce 20:44
gonna, we’re gonna use that clip, I get that as
Eric Meyer 20:48
well. So let me all became cutie pie forever within our grasp. And, I mean, it’s, it’s certainly a good way to break through people’s preconceptions and get them to think again about this subject. Because it’s, you know, it’s a it’s kind of one of those man man bites dog moments. With what is this? What’s happening right now? Yeah. Well, in your on your website, you have this section about what do you call it? nuclear speed dating? Right, that. And this idea about it, you know, how you have a section about these nuclear conversations, speed dating. So another creative approach, then? What is that? What is nuclear speed dating? What does that mean? Yeah, that’s, that’s part of our advocacy trainings that we do, we find that, you know, a lot of the people that are interested in advocating for nuclear are nuclear engineers. And they largely suffer from something referred to as the curse of knowledge. Where, because they know so much about this subject, they can’t remember what it was, like not knowing about it. And so instead of kind of going in with that understanding, and being able to explain it to a lay person, or have a, I should say, rather than explain, have a conversation about it with the way person, they maybe launch into the certain aspects, that seemed the most interesting to them as a person who already knows a lot about it. So kind of getting people to do these simulations and run through the motions of, of having persuasive, productive conversations that are actually real, two way communication, rather than talking at someone and hoping that some of it gets absorbed into their, into their brain, which doesn’t really work.
Robert Bryce 22:41
So this training, that’s part of your that’s your portfolio, right? You’re advocating with emails and reaching out to politicians, legislators, etc. But you’re also trying to do training with people who are in the industry to make them better advocates.
Eric Meyer 22:55
That’s right. Yeah. Yeah. So we just, we just did kind of a shorter one. Last week with some friends of American nuclear society and North American young generation of nuclear. This one was specifically about how to use the latest in educational technology programs that had been kind of coming up in the age of COVID. Here to make more effective classroom visits for nuclear
Robert Bryce 23:23
flight, is that a slide deck? Or what I mean, what does that mean? What does that look like?
Eric Meyer 23:27
Yeah, that so I was explaining a couple, a few new tools that have come come to my knowledge recently. One is called the edpuzzle. And allows you to take any YouTube video and put questions inside of it to kind of check people’s understanding. So making sure they actually, you know, heard what was said in the video a little bit before. So if they didn’t, then they can rewatch that section just to get the right answer. So that was one of them. And another one is called Pear Deck, which allows you to take any of your existing Google Slides presentations and put multiple choice questions put little like drag and drop, while students to draw all these kinds of little interactivity.
Robert Bryce 24:11
And that page, here’s Pear Deck,
Eric Meyer 24:13
yeah, like p AR, like the cat here. Okay, and it just works right on top of Google Slides. So you already have your existing presentations. It’s very easy to adapt. And then another one I’m really excited to start integrating into our advocacy trainings is called flipgrid. And that allows you as the teacher to set up kind of a prompt and maybe an A short example video of you responding to that prompt. So it could be something like, why do you think it could be something kind of thought provoking? Like why do you think new nuclear uranium should be considered a renewable fuel? Should it or shouldn’t it and why? and getting people talking about that? Or what how would you respond if somebody said, Well, what about Chernobyl and so seeing people’s shortness video responses to that, and then having people respond to each other’s videos, I think is gonna be a really helpful learning tool. I haven’t fully integrated yet because it just, I just found out about it about a month ago. But, you know, always trying to stay on the on the cutting edge of what’s Sure.
Robert Bryce 25:16
Sure. Well, so let’s talk about that a little bit. Because one of the other things that I had written down here, and it’s you talked about it on your generation. Tell me again, what’s your website, direct us to your website?
Eric Meyer 25:29
Yeah, so it’s generation atomic.org. And there, you can, you know, find kind of a case for nuclear why nuclear is important. You can find a map of the world’s nuclear power plants and which ones are currently under threat or, or no longer in operation. And there’s also I think, one of the most important parts of it is the take action page. And we’re constantly adding new digital actions in Canada, the US and Australia. And we’ve taken over 4000 of those digital actions over the last couple years. And it’s, you know, it’s it’s pretty awesome to give people the ability to not only send an email to all their like officials, but make a make a phone call to them, tweet at them as well and give them a nice script that they can use or edit, edit and personalize as they like
to hear from their constituents on this.
Robert Bryce 26:27
Sure. So that’s your website and on Twitter, what’s your Twitter handle?
Eric Meyer 26:31
It’s Gen g n underscore atomic. At Gen. Atomic. Okay,
Robert Bryce 26:37
gotcha. So, just a quick reminder, this is the power hungry podcast, my guest is Eric Meyer. He’s the executive director and founder of generation atomic, and we’re talking about his his his group, and what they’re their nuclear advocacy efforts and the challenges that are involved in in, in keeping nuclear plants that existing plants open and advocating for future nuclear. So you have a video on your website. I was looking at it. You’re you were at the cop 24 meeting in Cata v. Che and in Poland, you mentioned you’d been to for those meetings has has the tenor of those changes I’m using tenor has as the as the as the attitude about nuclear in those cop meetings changed in the last few years. What how do you how do you see the progression of the of the nuclear discussion over the last few years? Is it improved? Is it is it getting getting better? What? Tell me how you view that?
Eric Meyer 27:36
Yeah, you know, it has it has gotten better. And I remember the very first Conference of Parties cop that I attended in Paris, it was seen as a scandal almost that there was this large pronuclear president’s nuclear for climate that these climate scientists that had come out in favor of nuclear. So that that was really you know, that that put the initial cracks in the armor, I think. And that was
Robert Bryce 28:07
interrupt that was that was Ken Caldera, James Hansen and a couple of others. If memory serves, who were they do you remember the
Eric Meyer 28:14
very manual and Tom Wigley
Robert Bryce 28:17
carry manual? And Tom lately, right, yeah, then they had a press conference in Paris, right, that was then got a fair amount of coverage.
Eric Meyer 28:23
The idea that that was that was really the kind of climate scientists for nuclear narrative really started there. And that was, through the work, good work of Kirsty Gauguin and energy for humanity. I think Robert stone was involved in that. and direct the
Unknown Speaker 28:39
Eric Meyer 28:40
promise. Exactly. Yeah, I should probably explain that. No problem. Thank you for filling in the gaps there. Yeah, Robert stone, and actually, that that conference, made it into a different movie called The new fire. And I’m also in that film singing opera about advanced nuclear on the buses and trains of Paris, in English, which I’m sure prescience totally understood. But anyway, it helped us hand out several thousand books called the climate gamble, our anti nuclear environmentalist in danger in our future, which is a good good book still out there. The audio book you can you can listen to my dulcet tones read it if you grab it on Audible. But yeah, a good book by some Finnish Finnish authors and good friends of mine,
Robert Bryce 29:29
rally partanen and
Eric Meyer 29:32
Yannick Cronin, there you go. Thank you. Yeah. And he’s got another one coming out soon, which is being edited right now. But I’m planning on doing an audio book for that as well. Gotcha. Yeah. At one science book of the year in Finland in 2017, I believe.
Robert Bryce 29:47
Yeah. So let’s talk about the we talked a little bit about the future technologies and different we recently new scale, got a key approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on their lightwater designed for their What is it a 60 megawatt electric reactor oklo just submitted their application to the NRC for approval. So there’s been some positive movement on next generation reactors. Advanced reactors. I don’t know what the you know how that terminology would you know, which one would apply to which but why don’t you handicap it for me, I know that there are a lot of different technologies out there what first Why do we need a new chemistry? Right, the the the new scale design is around lightwater, which is the most the design that we have most of now around the world or almost all of now around the world deployed and close coming up with a different design. So look at Tell me what how you view it, which which designs in your view are the most promising for this next gen of reactors that are being developed now?
Eric Meyer 30:52
Yeah, I see different designs filling different market niches, you know, a close 1.5 megawatt reactor could be a fan fantastic community powerhouse for remote villages for places cut off from you know, roads that are currently flying in diesel fuel to generate their electricity that’s very expensive and I think it’s a good business decision to try to go after the most expensive electricity markets right now because that’s that’s always the question right? How much how much is this newfangled nuclear gonna cost and candidate undersell? What’s, what’s already there? I think they have a fantastic strategy. And I’m excited to see their you know, next design as I think they are thinking down the road. All right, what’s the, you know, after we do the 1.5 megawatt? Are we going to do the 15? Or the 150? I don’t know. But I think that’s in the works for them. Sure.
Robert Bryce 31:53
And then there’s and they’re using a molten salt design, right? Or the for for for heat transfer?
Eric Meyer 32:00
They Gosh, I don’t think oklo is using any molten salt. I think that’s the future transfer. I know ultrasafe nuclear is using that with their gas. Cool, but I think
Robert Bryce 32:12
I should know this. I interviewed Carolyn Cochran. Oh, my God, embarrassing myself. Oh, don’t ask the question. If you don’t know. But yeah, okay. So yeah,
Eric Meyer 32:20
they have they have I, you know, solid fuel with liquid sodium
Robert Bryce 32:25
as the liquid sodium. Okay. Okay. Yeah.
Eric Meyer 32:27
Yeah, it’s, you know, it’s, it’s actually very similar design to the first quote, unquote, nuclear power plant, which, you know, powered for light bulbs. And then and then a building in Idaho, the experimental breeder reactor, which, by the way, there is a nice music video that I filmed. It can, you can watch, that’s the Clean Power forever that I referenced earlier.
Robert Bryce 32:55
And when people see that, is that on the on generation atomic website as well?
Eric Meyer 32:59
I Gosh, I think it’s in there somewhere. But if you type clean power forever into into YouTube, you’ll you’ll find it. Okay.
Robert Bryce 33:06
Got it. Yeah. So then there’s the new scale design, which is, which is using a it’s a it’s a water cooled reactor, like the existing designs, but is so I asked it again, just to show if you handicap it, which is there a company or technology that you think has it has some advantage over the other contestants right now?
Eric Meyer 33:23
Yeah, yeah, I’m there there are I do have some thoughts about that. I’m wondering if I’m gonna get in trouble by saying, No, I think you know, new scale. They are first out the gates, I think the nuclear community writ large is rooting for them to be successful. There are issues that I see with their design, you know, as a lay person, the size of the pool that they need to put all these reactors in is quite large. It’s actually larger than any pools that currently exists. I found out recently, it’s, you know, a few orders larger than Olympic swimming pools. So that’s, that’s kind of a little bit of a question mark. I feel like and that maybe hurts hurts the ability to scale if you, you know, kind of have to decide how large your pool is going to be at the beginning. And you can’t, you know, build extra pools later on. So that’s, that’s a little bit of a question mark, for me. Sure. I’m certainly hoping that they’re successful. I like as far as light water reactor designs. I like GE Hitachi is bw rx 300. That stands for boiling water reactor 10 and 300 megawatts of electric 900. Thermal. That to me seems like a very streamlined design, it uses something like 90% less concrete, then it’s than the earlier design that GE Hitachi made that it’s based off of the s bw or enhanced safety volume. Economically simplified is what they always also call it boiling water reactor. That seems like a really good fit to drop into the footprint of existing coal plants. That being said, I’m super excited for molten salt reactors that are around the corner like terrestrial energy’s design, I think is really elegant and has a good business model associated with it. And having those reactors with the different chemistry allows you to have much higher temperatures, but then you’re getting into decarbonizing the industrial sector and replacing gas. And because
Robert Bryce 35:36
you have a way for heat, process heat for refiners, or miners, or whoever else is going to need that kind of heat. You mentioned terrestrial, and they’re based in Canada, right there. They’re a Canadian company. And as I understand it, they they domiciled in Canada, because they found they thought it would offer them a faster path to licensure, then they would find in the United States, which is interesting in terms of thinking about, okay, well, what’s the big picture here? How are companies going to be able to build and, and produce a reactor but they first have before all of that they have to be able to get regulators to say yes, and it has to be a credible regulator. So it’s now we’re really in this is we’ve been talking a lot about the United States. But really, the game here is really international market, right in that, as I look at it, yes, these these reactors could be deployed in the US, but the electric market in the US is very fragmented. So that and the electric demand in the United States is growing very, very slowly. So can you talk about the prompting you here? So the game is about in climate change in co2 emissions? Sure, it’s about the United States. But isn’t it? Is it more about the developing world? I’ll put it in the make a question rather than a statement? Is it more about the developing world and how we get these reactors deployed in Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, China, Indonesia, the Philippines? That is it fair to say that’s where the bigger or bigger challenge or bigger bang for the co2 buck is?
Eric Meyer 36:58
I mean, you’re absolutely right. And it’s really easy for us in the west to get myopic about, you know, decarbonizing, the little bit that we have left here. But yeah, there’s, you know, like, like you showed in your, your film, they’re still you know, a billion plus people living in in the low watt world are really struggling and, and I, and I think that’s one of the largest social and environmental justice issues in existence, but it doesn’t get the same building as, you know, a community here there that’s next to a coal plant or a refinery or something like that. But yeah, we need to keep keep our eyes on cleaning up those and electrifying those communities around the world. I was just doing doing some numbers, I have a little fossil fuel global fossil fuel replacement calculator, where I can kind of plug in different the different reactor and make a couple guesses about how many could possibly be made at a factory per year, and how many we would need. And just as an example, I took one of the reactors, we actually are building pretty quickly right now, which is the Russian vvr 1200. It’s a 1200 megawatt electric reactor. So if if we’re going to build that one and decarbonize the world’s electric electricity that’s currently generated by fossil fuels, that’s, that’s just under 20 27,000 terawatt hours, annually. And if we were going to do that, we’d need about 2800 of those large nuclear reactors. So let’s, you know, let’s say we get started in 2030, and build them till 2050. You’re looking at 138 reactors a year, coming not coming out of 46 factories, you know, I’m guessing that then each factory can maybe do three reactors a year or something like that. Like, the numbers are astounding, when you when you really think about it,
Robert Bryce 39:03
the numbers are incredibly large. And that’s one of the things that is so daunting about thinking about this global decarbonisation effort and thinking about what we have to start with the grid, and then we have to figure well, right 10 it will let’s do increments of 10 terawatt hours right and then and then work the numbers back from there. But but it in your view right now then is it the Russians the Chinese who in globally Do you look to them that are are succeeding in deploying nuclear at scale?
Eric Meyer 39:34
Yeah, you said it it’s it’s the the Russian and the Chinese and you know, as as an American who, who cares about democratic values, who who cares about having good jobs in this country and reliable electricity, affordable electricity and and in spreading our democratic values, other countries, it’s really frustrating to see how the good work that they’re doing as good as that It is to see them, you know, starting reactor engineering programs for students coming from the sub Saharan Africa. It’s like everything that this our country has done in the past with Atoms for Peace, but just got away from and just gave gave up the whole game. And it’s I hope we can make a comeback both for economic but also national security reasons. It’s kind of it’s going a little slower than I like to like it do right now.
Robert Bryce 40:27
So in terms of your work, because much of you’re focused on the broad portfolio, but is it fair to say your your? Well, I, how much of your work, I’ll ask it this way, how much of your work is on college campuses? And why there what what is? What? What is the campus environment give you that you don’t get in other places?
Eric Meyer 40:51
Yeah, you know, there’s, there’s a lot of energy on college campuses, this, from January to till the realities of the pandemic sunk in, we were on four different college campuses in Illinois, collecting petition signatures and holding events in support of continued operation of nuclear plants. They’re 100% clean energy future as, as we called it, and college students, they care about this, they care about the future. They have, have the energy and sometimes the the time to devote to being an activist for for this kind of thing. And I think they’re they can be persuasive messengers to their elected officials. And it’s just there’s, you know, there’s there’s nobody else doing this this work right now. Or who’s able to do this work? I think it’s very by modal, I’ve noticed our volunteers, it’s like, young folks that don’t have kids yet. And retired folks that don’t have kids, you know, in their house anymore, right. And those are kind of our two constituencies that that can be called upon to volunteer their time and effort for this cause. And I think college students are big piece of that.
Robert Bryce 42:06
That’s interesting, because Is there a generation gap in the willingness to endorse nuclear? Because, you know, I’m somewhat older than you are. And when I grew up the, you know, the anti nuclear advocacy was tied to weaponry, and it was a kind of a distrust of big government and so on. But it also seems, if you’re looking at the at the political world today, there’s a divide, both in belief in climate change on a generational basis and the generational divide on the ability of nuclear to to deal with that. How do you see that the generational divide, given that this is, you know, that’s in the name of your, your organization? How does it How does the generation gap figure into nuclear politics?
Eric Meyer 42:51
And it’s kind of interesting, right? Because it seems like every, you know, for we’re talking baby boomers, they, you know, they have the Cold War, they had duck and cover, which was very traumatic. You know,
Robert Bryce 43:05
there were fallout shelters in my Vegas, the the radioactive sign fallout shelters in my elementary school, in the basement.
Eric Meyer 43:13
Yeah, I mean, that’s just imagining kind of nuclear holocaust is really a traumatic moment that I think most people who experienced that haven’t fully processed and gotten over it, it really got down to it. And, you know, after that, it was Three Mile Island, which I think a lot of Gen X folks experienced, and, and the immediate film that came out what was it six days before the China syndrome, it was just too weird to think about how that happened. And then for my generation, it was the Simpsons that formed public opinion around this topic. So it seems like every moment and now you know, you could say the Zoomers have have Fukushima to some extent. So it seems like every generation has kind of their their touchstone nuclear fear moments.
Robert Bryce 44:06
Cultural the cultural defining thing of that generation, right. Yeah,
Eric Meyer 44:10
And I guess I’m just I’m hoping that the the larger existential threat of global climate change, plus the increased awareness of the massive societal injustice we see by people who can’t don’t have anything to plug in or anything to plug it into, you know, that’s, I feel like the the awareness is growing about that. And that is hopefully superseding some of these decades or dogmas that we have,
Robert Bryce 44:44
right? So, radioactivity is something you talked about on your website as well, that it’s scary to people, right? If you think about well, what is Pete what what are the concerns? Right, we talked earlier about development costs of new reactors, we talk about About the length of time to deploy new reactors, that’s a scale issue that as you we just talked about the numbers are pretty daunting. But on a personal level, it seems that that radioactivity is an issue for people because they can’t see it, touch it, smell it, etc. How do you talk about radioactivity? How do you how do you disabuse people of that fear? What’s the what would you know? What’s a millisievert? Where do you start on that, to make people grasp the the issue of radioactivity so that it lets them understand that is not as dangerous, as they’ve been? Told her been met? Or just made? mistakenly believe? How do you how do you go about that?
Eric Meyer 45:41
I think, you know, with with a lot of our types of nuclear messaging efforts, and try to put it on a human scale that people can really visualize, they can grasp, you know, feels feels touchable to them and for radiation. I think that’s, that’s been bananas for us. And in many cases at COP 23
Robert Bryce 46:05
been bananas for us. I’m sorry.
Eric Meyer 46:08
Robert Bryce 46:09
it was good to hear.
Eric Meyer 46:14
at COP 23, we purchased things like 200 pounds of bananas from local supermarkets in Germany, and logged them in into the the conference area or where the Expo is happening early in the morning before anybody hadn’t had gotten there. And we had all these bananas. stickered up with a sticker that said something like, you know, good morning, today, your breakfast is brought to you by nuclear for climate. Did you know that this banana is more radioactive than living next, living within a I think it was a five kilometer radius of the nuclear power plant for a year. And then we we handed him out every single Expo table all over the place. And we got a we got a lot of visitors to our booth. Some people were were confused that thinking that we had irradiated the bananas, and then their their minds were blown further when we explained that that most produce is actually so it doesn’t have various pathogens on it before it gets to the supermarket.
Robert Bryce 47:22
Were you able to put a millisievert number on the banana? Whereas I don’t I’ve never heard never heard of the banana technique before. But that’s that’s interesting.
Eric Meyer 47:31
Yeah, it’s a banana. I want to just double check here. I think it’s point O one or point one millisieverts, I just wanted to, I didn’t want to give it up.
Robert Bryce 47:41
But the but the point that you were making was that correct me if I’m wrong, radioactivity is all around us. And right. And here’s, here’s a common thing that you see all the time that it has, it’s radioactive, and yet you don’t think about that? Is that? So using the banana as a teaching? A teachable and edible moment? I guess.
Eric Meyer 48:01
Exactly. Yeah. Because there’s, you know, there’s potassium 40 is a radioactive elements. And every single banana, it’s, there’s, there’s a lot in our, in our body constantly, we actually, you know, we need these these minerals to survive. But there’s, yeah, there’s this kind of conception of radiation and that even the smallest amount is bad for you and can give you a chance of getting cancer. And there’s literally no data to back that up.
Robert Bryce 48:30
So the in the radioactivity is one issue that is there and cost time to build. But there’s, is it also just that renewables have gained this natural kind of patina? Right? Oh, well, it’s the wind and the sun, and therefore, they must be better? Is that part of the part of the allure as well? Or how do you see the the marketing around renewables and why is it been more successful than other forms of energy? What How do you see that?
Eric Meyer 48:57
Yeah, that’s I mean, they are seen as kind of harmonizing with nature, the natural flows of nature and there’s very little awareness of the mining intensity required to produce these technologies and how much land that is needed and and you know, who, who has to sack or what kind of environmental sacrifices we have to make to put these things up? Where are we are we this was a productive farmland was it you know, previously, a forest that animals lived in and we just clear cut to make room for these things. There’s very little awareness of the environmental invasiveness of some of these so they, they are benefiting from that perception of it being being natural and it’s, it’s a tough one to cut through. And I found that leading with the fact that something that somebody likes like wind and solar is actually not good and is is a good way. To close people off to what you’re going to say next, anytime somebody feels attacked like that, they’re going to think of every single reason why they shouldn’t believe you and why they’re not wrong. Because nobody likes to feel like they’re, they’re wrong. They can maybe feel like they were misled, potentially, because that kind of blames puts the blame on somebody else. But you can’t, you can’t attack somebody and expect them to change their mind.
Robert Bryce 50:23
So well, let’s talk about your case in Minnesota, because you’re born and raised there. And there, there’s a lot of controversy around in particular around wind projects in Minnesota. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Eric Meyer 50:36
Yeah, I think, you know, the main controversy that I see, and maybe you might know more about this, as far as land use issues, I’m not kind of drawing a blank on, like land use disputes. I know, there have been some issues with as far as migratory birds are concerned.
Robert Bryce 50:54
But for freeborn County, I know there’s ongoing there’s litigation now over a project that’s being pushed in freeborn. County. But if you don’t, if you don’t want it, that’s not your we
Eric Meyer 51:03
gotta we gotta read up on that one. I haven’t heard that recently. But to me that by the wind and solar related controversy is around the precious metals mining in northern Minnesota near the Boundary Waters, which are a very sacred place for me. I love I love going canoeing, fishing camping up there. And just adjacent there’s really a lot some of the best copper and nickel deposits in in the country and some say in the world. And there have been various mining companies that have been trying to get in there and make make that and extract those minerals. And I think, you know, in the environment, environmentalists have a very justified position and not not wanting to potentially expose this beautiful Boundary Waters area to, you know, copper, nickel sulfide mining techniques, which can be terrible for water quality. I think they have a really good point. Of course, it’s, it’s all of the same people who are against nuclear and want to do 100%, renewable electricity future. And it’s like, they, they don’t connect the dots of where the the minerals for those those technologies come from. Connection.
Robert Bryce 52:26
So is that part of that must be meet? Well, that must be the the key challenge, then you’re trying to make this personal then for for people to grasp those kinds of issues. Is that? And so? Is that the way? Is that one of the techniques that you use them? How do you make that personal connection, then because that’s that’s ultimately the thing that makes people change their minds and take action? Right?
Eric Meyer 52:46
Yeah, it is, you know, the kind of jargony way that organizers talk about it is having having values alignment, making sure that the person you’re talking to you actually see each other as people rather than, you know, a talking head or some kind of objective target to persuade, but you understand what this person cares about? When so you’re, you’re asking a different type of question. Which is more more along the lines of like, when did you first realize you’re an environmentalist? Or, you know, have you ever noticed any climate impacts from you know, in your neighborhood, and kind of sharing stories about how, how you’re really the same, and you have a lot of the same hopes and aspirations and, and cares for the environment? And then you can get into the topic of the energy decisions that we’re making?
Robert Bryce 53:41
Sure. Well, so we’re coming around an hour, and I don’t, you know, I like to keep these these episodes at about that length. I was want to ask you a few other just questions about, you know, given that you’ve dedicated yourself to the issue of climate change, and nuclear and, and informing people, but who are your heroes? Who do you look to as leaders on these kinds of things? And, you know, it could be musical heroes, personal heroes, but I’m just curious how, you know, what are the what are the examples that you want to emulate?
Eric Meyer 54:14
Yeah, that’s a good one. You know, I a hero of mine for a long time has has been a scientist and the, the director of Oak Ridge National Lab, guy by the name of Alvin Weinberg. And he, he and I are very much lockstep in our view, that, that the problems that we’re facing today in terms of climate change in terms of just scarcity in general of resources are largely a choice that society has made, most likely unknowingly and and can be fixed by a technological means. And you know that and that’s something that gives gives me hope, knowing that we do humans have been smart enough to come come up with the technology we need to provide for everyone and, and not hurt the environment and keep the environment pristine keep keep nature nature, you know, keep that habitat out there for the animals that need it. And he saw the work that he did and in developing new types of reactors and trying to make, make them you know, passively safe, because he saw the potential blowback from any type of accident whether or not anybody was even hurt. He saw that coming in decades before anybody else did and a decade before through my island. But it was hard for him to persuade the powers at the time that we should be pursuing some other reactor designs at the same time. So he was, he’s a big hero of mine for seen how mankind through our inventiveness could provide for the world. So he’s, I try to carry his his message forward and, and help achieve as he would call the second nuclear era. So he’s a big one. And then, you know, these climate scientists that have had the courage to come out with James Hansen and others courage to come out in support of nuclear, who have lost funding as a consequence, they are big heroes of mine to anybody who looks at a personal sacrifice, in order to support this technology is like a hero in my book.
Robert Bryce 56:39
That’s great. And so what about what are you reading? Now? You’re reading novels? You’re what what do you do when you’re not working on these issues? What do you like to read? What What does your your go to novelist or go to? author who do you like?
Eric Meyer 56:53
Cash? You know, I actually can’t remember the last fiction book I read several years. No, but typically, I’m reading three books at a time. One is on the science of communication. So for me right now, I just somebody recommended this one to me by Alan Alda. It’s if I understood you, would I have this look on my face? Uh huh. He’s an actor and Master of improvisation and worked some of that into science communications. Uh huh. Man, I’m always reading some kind of climate book. Before it was uninhabitable earth. And I just started digging into this mark Linus six degrees of climate emergency.
Robert Bryce 57:37
Linus, his new book, is that the one that just came out? Yep. Okay,
Eric Meyer 57:40
yeah, that’s the update to the 2007. And then I always like to read some kind of nuclear book. And so that right now is, and I see my green screens having fun with this book, atomic accidents, as written with a really good sense of humor about, it’s actually, the writing is very dramatic, but also humorous at times about various accidents. And it’s us coming from like, Look, this is the worst that it ever was, and ever, conceivably could be still wasn’t that bad. Like, look at this hydro accident is way worse.
Robert Bryce 58:19
That’s interesting. So comparing the results at Chernobyl or Fukushima with other other accidents that are industrial or energy related. Yeah, that’s an interesting idea.
Eric Meyer 58:29
And I should say, I didn’t, I mentioned this, but your book was also excellent. And if anybody listening hasn’t read a question of power yet, so good minds, dog eared like crazy filled with highlights, I refer back to it.
Robert Bryce 58:42
Well, that prompt was not designed to
Eric Meyer 58:45
know. But nevertheless,
Robert Bryce 58:46
I, you know, I like to ask that question. Because, you know, I just think it’s interesting to see what you know, here what people are doing. I have not you have not clued me in on the green screen. That’s a nuclear plant behind you. That you said that’s in Belgium. What is it? What’s the name of that plant?
Eric Meyer 59:00
It’s called tiange. And it’s yet three, three gigawatts always on nuclear power. It’s another one of these plants that’s scheduled for early closure. ridiculously through political pressure in the EU. And, you know, it’s a it’s another one of those potential winds that the the pro nuclear movement could could make in the next couple of years if we if we work hard enough, and we should future generations with bangus.
Robert Bryce 59:29
So last question, then for you and Eric Meyer with a generation atomic, so what you’ve been working at this for a while and you earlier, you talked about, you know, being kind of depressed or deflated at different, you know, inability to move the needle in some cases. So what what gives you hope what keeps you optimistic in this in this effort, that your view you’ve now devoted yourself to for four years? What makes you hopeful?
Eric Meyer 59:56
Yeah, well, you know, the constant growing nature of our movement gives me a lot of hope. Just you know, this month, there’s stand up for nuclear events and over 40 cities, some so many friends and allies, taking the action to actually, you know, host post something in their areas. I’d love seeing that. And knowing that there is a light at the end of this, this tunnel, like there is an actual way that we could rapidly deeply decarbonize the world, and and provide everyone the energy they needed if we made the right decisions. That just that keeps me going. And, you know, if I think if, if the math, the math is very daunting, but it’s it’s not impossible. So knowing that there is actually like, we have a chance, and that there’s a lot of people that support that and it’s growing constantly gives me a lot of hope.
Robert Bryce 1:00:54
Good. Well, that’s, that’s a good way to draw to a close any any final thoughts, any other things that you wanted to bring up, Eric, that we didn’t hit on here?
Eric Meyer 1:01:04
Let’s see, well, I should probably say it one more time, generation atomic.org. Very good, you can put a slash take a hyphen action in there, if you want or click the take action button. There are various pronuclear actions that you can take in three different countries. And in various states, things, you know, even contacting the NRC about various issues regarding the size of the emergency planning zones for smrs, more more walkie stuff, and then more kind of general support for the technology. And then you know, when you take action, we’ll send you an email, give you the option to subscribe to our email list, if you like or attend advocacy trainings or future virtual events for now that that we’re having, and so it’s a good way to get plugged in. And, yeah, anybody who does that, and anybody who’s care cares about making the world a better place. You know, I salute you and welcome you to the nuclear movement. Great.
Robert Bryce 1:02:07
All right, well, Eric Meyer, the founder and executive director of generation atomic, thanks a million for being on the power hungry podcast all of you out there. Thank you for tuning in. This, if you want to see or hear other episodes, go to power hungry podcast.com that will direct you to all of the episodes that we’ve done. Thanks again, Eric. And thanks to all of you for listening and tune in next time for another episode of the power hungry podcast.