During the American Nuclear Society's 2011 Winter Meeting in November, about 90 ANS members visited lawmakers to promote nuclear energy and technology as part of the ANS/Young Professionals Congress visit to Capitol Hill. As a student at Purdue University, which is located in Indiana, I met with legislative assistants from the offices of Indiana senators Richard Lugar (R.) and Dan Coats (R.) and Congressman Todd Rokita (R.).
Jeff Terry, a physics professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology and a resident of northwest Indiana, joined me at these meetings.
During the meetings, we discussed the importance of nuclear energy and technology in America's future, and how continued funding for a few key programs would make a large impact. I highlighted the importance of nuclear engineering student programs in providing a future workforce in the nuclear field. Specifically, funding has been unstable for the Integrated University Program (IUP), which provides scholarships and fellowships through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy. As chair of the Advanced Test Reactor Users Organization, Terry stressed the importance of an adequate and stable funding base for the ATR so that more universities, such as Purdue, could become partner organizations.
The legislative assistants in each lawmaker's office were very receptive to talking about our issues. These Indiana lawmakers have been traditionally pro-nuclear and supportive of science and technology funding. Still, it was important for us to visit them and further promote nuclear energy and technology so that they will keep us in mind for future legislative decisions.
This visit to the Hill was not my first. For the past three years, I've been involved in the Nuclear Engineering Student Delegation, which is a group of students that travels to Washington every summer to advocate for nuclear engineering education. Through this experience, I was able to bring up nuclear issues as a constituent of Indiana and Florida (where I grew up) and form relationships with the legislative assistants. I now serve as a resource for them when it comes to nuclear energy and education legislation.
Students and professionals both should become more involved in policymaking by simply reaching out to their legislators. The first time that I advocated on the Hill, it surprised me how easy it was and how willing my representatives were to listen to me. We elect our lawmakers, and thus they have a stake in addressing our concerns, especially when they affect the home district or state. For example, in my congressional meetings, I stressed that cutting the IUP in fiscal year 2011 directly affected me and the state of Indiana, because I had applied for funding and was unable to get it. When talking to policymakers, be sure to stick to the point, leave out the technical details, and relate to issues at home. Also remember that you represent yourself, and not your institution.
Reaching out to your representative is easy; simply visit their office, write them a letter, or give them a call. You can find out who your lawmakers are on the House and Senate websites, and all of them have offices in both their home state/district and in Washington, D.C. Also, be sure to visit the ANS and Nuclear Energy Institute websites for information and position statements on current issues.
Lenka Kollar is a master's student in nuclear engineering at Purdue University. She has been involved in Purdue's ANS student chapter since 2006, and has been a national ANS member since 2009. At Purdue, Lenka established an extensive local nuclear science outreach program, including visits to high schools and a teacher workshop. She is also a member of the ANS Student Sections Committee. Lenka plans to graduate in May 2012 and is looking to start a career in nuclear energy policy and communications, preferably in the Chicago area.