The Other Side of the Cookie: Anti-Nuclear People in Our Lives

December 24, 2012, 8:00PMANS Nuclear CafeMeredith Angwin

The woman on the moral high ground

The woman in front of me was standing on the moral high ground; or at least, she thought she was standing there.

"I'm very disappointed in you," she said.

Physically, we were in a hallway outside an interactive-TV room at a community college near my house. The Public Service Board meeting was in progress (November 19) and she had just finished making a statement against Vermont Yankee. I had left the room to find the ladies' room, and she had left for the same purpose. But she found me first, and made sure to tell me that she was "disappointed" in me.

Then she added: "I suppose you might say you are disappointed in me, too."

I answered: "Yes, the feeling is mutual." That's what I said, but it wasn't really true. I wasn't "disappointed" in her.

More about her and about me

"Disappointed" is an odd word, when you think about it.

She told me that we had met many years ago. I didn't remember meeting her. However, I have become a bit of a public figure around here, and she remembered meeting me.

Apparently, we had met at a party, shortly after George and I moved to Vermont. We were invited to lots of gatherings in our first few months in this area. Our friends would say "I know someone who lives near Dartmouth" and arrange an introduction for us. I remember the party; it was at the home of a Dartmouth faculty member. It was a summer-time party, with the grill going. As I said, I don't remember meeting her.

How could she be "disappointed" in someone she barely met?

Then I looked at the situation from her point of view. She had met me. I was an educated Jewish woman who had been invited to a party at the home of a Dartmouth faculty member. Therefore, she had expectations about my views on energy.

I disappointed her.

The other side of the cookie

In my blog, I often talk about the brownie gap, the need for nuclear supporters to hang out together, eat brownies, and support each other. But what do we do about all the anti-nuclear people in our lives? I have many friends who don't like nuclear energy. I suspect that they secretly think of me as a fanatic.

In practice, these friends just avoid talking about "that."  I have other interests, including music and gardening.  I read and write mysteries.  I try to be a good listener.  In other words, my friends and I  have many things to talk about without mentioning "that."  (Speaking of "that", you might like to read this guest post on How Did Nuclear Become a Four-Letter word.)

Eating brownies with pro-nuclear people is one side of the cookie. Anti-nuclear friends are the other side.

Being friends with all kinds of people

I have learned some things about friendship, ever since I became a pro-nuclear advocate:

First, I acknowledge that people who meet an older, well-educated Jewish woman have certain expectations about what her attitudes are going to be toward various subjects. When they find that they are wrong about my energy attitudes, they can be disappointed. It's a real feeling, and there's anger with it. "How can you say that?" Or as another woman said to me: "You are the first educated person I have ever met who is in favor of Vermont Yankee."

Second, I try not to talk about "that" directly with friends who disagree with me about nuclear energy. Friends are more valuable to me than policy. Also, there is no person in the world with whom I agree about everything. Some people inexplicably prefer vanilla ice cream to chocolate, for example. People aren't clones of each other, and it would be pretty terrible if we were. In practice, I often attempt to change the subject.

Third, if really pressed, I stick up for nuclear energy. I say it is better than anything else that is out there. This explanation gets complicated because, of course, they are also against fossil fuels, and plan to use only renewables. So instead of talking about the evils of fossil fuels (relatively straight-forward to explain) I end up talking about energy density (that's harder). A commentator on one of my blog posts said that I was a "grief counselor" as people begin to understand what their energy choices really are. Maybe I am.

Fourth, I hold to my own values, which include seeing the world as it is, rather than as I would like it to be, or as others would like it to be.  The Zen of Be Here Now about energy.  This isn't something I say to people, but it is important to me, and keeps me centered.

Finally, I don't sweat the small stuff. The lady in the hallway... heavens, I met her and we didn't hit it off, eight years ago, energy or no energy. She seems pretty judgmental, and I probably detected that attitude at the long-ago party. Her opinion about me is "small stuff" in my life. If a closer friend makes an occasional negative remark, I try to let it slide. As another friend put it: "You don't have to join every fight you are invited to."

The third side of the cookie: Hope for the future

Being true to my understanding of electricity sources and nuclear power has been hard, but sometimes it has surprising rewards. I meet people who are secretly pro-nuclear. Other people are puzzled and tell me that they would like to learn more. One woman, anti-nuclear when I met her, now tries to convince her friends of the importance of nuclear energy to combat global warming. Another woman, at my synagogue, told me that many people are "very proud of me."

I don't want to refine too much on this. Most people won't change.

Most of my anti-nuclear friends are going to stay exactly that: both anti-nuclear and friends. I remind myself that we all want the same thing: a better world for our children.

Some people, a few, have re-evaluated nuclear energy, perhaps because of me. That is very gratifying.  That's the third side of the cookie: the possibility of winning supporters to nuclear.

Have Happy Holidays, a Merry Christmas, and a New Year of friendship, health, and nuclear power!



Meredith Angwin is the founder of Carnot Communications, which helps firms to communicate technical matters.  She specialized in mineral chemistry as a graduate student at the University of Chicago.  Later, she became a project manager in the geothermal group at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).  Then she moved to nuclear energy, becoming a project manager in the EPRI nuclear division.   She is an inventor on several patents.  Angwin formerly served as a commissioner in Hartford Energy Commission, Hartford, Vt.  Angwin is a long-time member of the American Nuclear Society and coordinator of the Energy Education Project.  She is a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

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