Once scared of nuclear power, she became a nuclear operator and a pro-nuclear activist

Earlier today I wrote about Vox telling environmentalists to stop telling kids the world is ending (because it’s not). But there’s another sign that at least some environmentalists are coming around to reality and that’s the increased acceptance of nuclear power on the green left. I think I started writing about this trend back in Sep. 2020 when a member of the extremist group Extinction Rebellion announced she had left the group and embraced nuclear power. Her example is especially relevant because as a spokesman for the group she was asked to defend some of the absurd claims it had made about the death toll from climate change. It was only after she was unable to defend those claims on television that she turned the corner on nuclear power.

Last October, Vox did a pretty solid video arguing that shutting down reactors in the midst of trying to end reliance on fossil fuels made zero sense. The connection between closing the plants and rising CO2 levels is pretty well established.

And earlier this year we all got a shock when Gov. Newsom in California announced that maybe plans to shutter the state’s last remaining nuclear plant was a bad idea that needed a second look. It’s still not clear if anything will come of that but Newsom wouldn’t have risked saying anything if he was certain it would be unpopular. Increasingly it seems people in the state are having second thoughts about handing power to the far left. That’s literally true in this case.

I say all of that as a way to introduce this CNBC story which appeared yesterday. It focuses on a woman named Heather Hoff who works as a nuclear reactor operator at Diablo Canyon, the plant that Gov. Newsom is now trying to save from mothballs. Hoff wasn’t always a fan of nuclear power. In fact, she says she was initially uncertain about it.

Hoff applied for and got a job as a plant operator at Diablo Canyonn in 2004. From the outset, Hoff was not sure what her job would entail and how she would feel about it, and her family was nervous about her taking a job working at a nuclear plant. So she decided to deal with the uncertainty by seeking out information herself.

“I’d heard a lot of stories of scary things — and just didn’t really know how I felt about nuclear,” Hoff told CNBC. “I spent the first probably six years of my career there asking tons and tons of questions.” For a while, she assumed it was only a matter of time before she would discover some “nefarious thing” happening at the nuclear reactor facility.

Her change in sentiment about nuclear energy was a gradual process. “I started feeling proud to work there, proud to help make such a huge quantity of clean electricity on a really small land footprint,” she told CNBC. Nuclear power actually is “in really good alignment with my environmental and humanitarian values,” she said.

There were more nervous moments in 2011 when the Fukushima meltdown happened while Hoff was inside the control room of Diablo Canyon:

“It was super scary,” Hoff told CNBC in a video interview. “It’s my worst nightmare as an operator — to be there and think about these other operators just across the ocean from us. They don’t know what’s going on with their plant. They have no power. They don’t know if people are hurt.”

In the first days after the accident, “what I was hearing on TV in the media was pretty scary,” Hoff said…

“Three plants had meltdowns and that’s scary and horrible and expensive, but it didn’t really hurt anyone,” Hoff said. “And that was really surprising to me.”

So over time her confidence not only returned, it increased. And in 2016 she co-founded her own pro-nuclear advocacy group called Mothers for Nuclear. Here’s a bit of what she says about that on the group’s website:

In the 12 years I have worked at Diablo Canyon this is the first time I’ve spoken out publicly about nuclear. When I first realized that there are numerous barriers that could cause the plant to cease operations, even before attempting license renewal in 2024, I felt compelled to speak out. Kristin and I will both be fine and are not worried about finding work somewhere else if they close Diablo. But we feel upset at misinformation and emotional targeting that is driving people to want to close it. And, we do love our jobs.

In addition to being a hub for innovation (we are continuously upgrading systems), Diablo Canyon is a showcase of our natural environment. We often watch humpback whales leap out of the water from our office windows. Pelicans and sea lions lounge atop the rock walls of our intake structure not far from the parking lot — where you can charge your electric car. My neighbor says that his best California scuba experience was just off our coast…

If Diablo Canyon is closed, it will be immediately replaced by natural gas, not solar and wind.

And once again there’s a connection in her story between climate pessimism and children. In her case the pessimism came from her father:

Dad also had strong views about the environment. He was always reading newsletters from groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists. He was pessimistic about humankind. When I first started thinking about having children, he told me “You’re making the wrong choice. We’re destroying the planet and it will be a hard life for your kids.”

Hoff got past that pessimism and has a daughter. Her father apparently got past it too before he died. Now she’s trying to help other people get past it. Here’s the full report featuring Hoff from CNBC:

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