Friday, July 28, 2006

A public meeting means you

Sorry for the delayed post, but I've been on the road.

This week, Michael Stuart and I traveled to the Golden State at the invitation of the Diablo Canyon chapter of North American Young Generation in Nuclear. Diablo Canyon is located just west of San Luis Obispo, which has experienced a record breaking heat wave in the past few days, causing blackouts throughout the region. Sometimes wind and solar just aren't enough.
The purpose of our visit was to conduct a workshop on how a small group of people can make a big difference in public outreach and education, and specifically how to address these issues in a public forum. (If you're wondering why we should receive such an invitation, check out some of our history of successful public outreach in places like Illinois and Mississippi.)

We were offered no payment (except travel expenses and a few meals) for designing and conducting the workshop, but we were rewarded with the opportunity to meet the sharp, fun professionals who make up their chapter, a guided tour of one of the nation's most beautiful nuclear sites, and a brief opportunity for some sightseeing! What more could a nuclear nerd ask for? As a bonus, we were able to select a date for our workshop, which allowed us to attend a semi-annual public meeting hosted by the NRC in San Luis Obispo. We are members of the public, after all.

The topic of the public meeting was Diablo Canyon's performance over the last year, as determined by the results of the aggregate inspections the NRC has performed during the year. Since the NRC determined that PG&E has generally performed well in their operation of the Diablo Canyon Power Station, one might expect the anticipated good report to make for a dull evening.

But that isn't what I was expecting, because this is California, which can be a little different. The grapevine had it that 'dull public meetings' for Diablo Canyon sometimes rank right up with the contentious public meetings for Indian Point or Vermont Yankee - no picnic for anybody in attendance. As a result of this and in response to feedback from the public, The NRC now has public meetings more often, in the evening, and with a local public access cable TV station recording the event for later broadcast.

Mothers for Peace had quite a few members in attendance, taking the opportunity to make comments. They regularly attend these NRC meetings in numbers, and, as you would expect, they are organized and well prepared. Also in attendance of course were a panel of NRC personnel, senior staff from Diablo Canyon, numerous members of the public - many of whom were affiliated with the power station, a retired chemist who pointedly stated he had no ties to nuclear power production, Michael Stuart, and myself.

I was impressed - no mean feat! What impressed me so much is that, in spite of a current of strong emotion in the room, individuals on all sides maintained a focus on decorum and civility, with only minor exceptions. At first the room was so calm and contained in their approach that we thought maybe there was no benefit for either Mike or I to speak. Frankly, such a positive outcome for the local residents would have been a disappointment to us. But whenever away from home, we remain cognizant that these meetings are primarily for the benefit of the community members to dialogue with the NRC and with each other. It's never respectful for us to travel outside our area and then monopolize some other community's agenda. We don't like it when that is done to our community, and we try hard not to do so to others. Therefore, we waited until most everyone had been given a chance to comment before raising our hands.

Highlighting the success of our workshop, several of the commentators included people who had participated in it earlier that day. And, even though these comments were brief, they were positive and represented support from Californians, who, according to this poll, mostly favor nuclear energy.

In his comments, Michael reminded those in attendance and the TV land viewers that 'waste' is one of the best things going for nuclear. Not only does nuclear generate less of it, but it can be safely isolated from the environment, unlike the wastes emitted by fossil fuels. The best news of all is that used nuclear fuel can be recycled - reducing the waste by as much as 95%. In a place like California, known for its recycling and conservation efforts, this should be welcome news, indeed. Michael's comments elicited several interruptions from the antis, but he stuck to his message.

I chose to speak to respond to those who felt that, if people are unhappy with current policies and risks, then they must be a bad thing. Leadership is about making the hard choices and doing what's best for a community or constituency - not about simply doing what is most popular. I commended the NRC on what has clearly been a concerted (and successful) effort to design meetings that support maximum local involvement within a mutually respectful vein. And I commended PG&E for their responsible operation of the Diablo Canyon station, as evidenced by the NRC report. What happens at one station affects all of them, and their surrounding communities.

Through NRC request, the meetings are filmed by SLO-SPAN network. When the video is confirmed available online, I hope to update the link.

So, what is a public meeting good for? Meeting your neighbors, really listening to their concerns, and finding ways and forums to respect each other's differences. When is the next NRC public meeting in your area? Who do you think you can learn from there?

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5 comments:

Michael Stuart said...

During my comment to the NRC, I produced a plastic fuel pellet from my pocket and asked if anyone noticed that I was carrying it. When my comment was met with the expected blank stares, I asked if anyone would have noticed if I was carrying 2000 pounds of coal in my pocket, which was met with muted laughter. My point being that for equal amounts of energy, the amount of waste is vastly different.

One anti later remarked, 'That worries me, because he could have been carrying *anything* in his pocket.'

She was right. Luckily I wasn't carrying something truly radioactive in my pocket - like a banana.

David Bradish said...

or Brazilian nuts

Ken Schrader said...

The visit from Michael and Kelly was very educational and inspiring. This is probably the most Diablo Canyon employees who got up and spoke at a public meeting in a long time. Thanks again for your visit.

Kelly L. Taylor said...

Ken! It was great to meet all of you. I applaud your persistence in attending events like that one, even when they turn out to be distasteful, as I've heard they have been in the past. I didn't want to mention anybody specifically only because I didn't have permission to use anybody's names in this public forum. It's terrific to 'see' you here, too! :-D

Anonymous said...

You guys are really great!

How about coming to Indian Point, and intercepting a room full of 350 conspiratorial bloodthirsty marxists, bent on making an "Angry Vid Moment" which would live on in infamy, long after any substantive issues discussed were long forgotten?

Had you been there (as leftist fringe candidate Jon Tasini was) you would have noticed that 2 events were happening simultaneously.

The first, was that decorous respectful meeting you speak of...(But only among NRC, nuc supporters, and undecideds)

The second simultaneous event was a loud, uncourteous precooked hate-hootenanny, orchestrated by the 4 local green part candidates, who had runners, with notes, skipping around the room, to tell followers which of thw 12 pre-rehearsed embarrassment stunts to perpetrate next....Kind of a Viet Cong Street Theatre at an NRC meeting.

Guess which of the 2 simultaneous meetings got the air coverage?

YEP
The Hate-nanny.


I'm so happy you guys have moved so far beyond all this.

Here in New Yawk, we are stuck
ACTUALLY HAVING TO FIGHT THESE ANARCHIST BASTARDS.

The Hudson Dog