On January 19, 2012, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Army Corps of Engineers held a joint public meeting to solicit comments about the draft environmental impact statement for the William States Lee nuclear power station that Duke Energy is proposing to build about 8 miles outside of Gaffney, SC.
The meeting included two sessions; one was during the working day between 1-4 pm and the second was in the evening from 7-10 pm. The trip from Lynchburg to Gaffney is a pleasant, nearly traffic-free trip that takes only 4.5 hours with relatively frequent stops to stretch. In my trusty, diesel-engined freedom machine; the round trip can be done in less than a single tank of gas, so I took a day of vacation from my day job to both participate and to cover the event.
One of the great things about being an independent blogger vice a traditional journalist is that I allow myself to have an opinion and to get involved in my stories. There is no employer involved who might try to enforce a typical journalistic attitude of balance that seeks to remain impartial no matter what the facts are.
The meeting was held at the Restoration Church International, a spacious venue with comfortable seating and an excellent sound system. Both sessions were well attended with perhaps 150 people in the afternoon and at least twice that many during the evening.
As a South Carolina resident who lives a short trip from the proposed site, Suzy Hobbs Baker from PopAtomic Studios had made advanced plans to attend. She registered in advance for space to display some of her artwork and photographs. She even baked a plate of cookies to lure people to her table to discuss energy choices.
It was a good thing that the seats at Restoration Church International were comfortable; we all sat for a long time through some fairly disorganized and droning speakers. I have to admit to a lot of fidgetting as speaker after speaker claimed that we did not need new energy sources other than wind and solar, that events at Fukushima should be scary enough to everyone to cause a halt to nuclear energy development, and that nuclear professional can never be trusted.
During the evening session, we were even treated to a lengthy “mike check” by a standing group of antinuclear activists, apparently organized under the leadership of the Western North Carolina chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR).
Aside: Of all of the people making comments who introduced themselves as being members of PSR, the only one who had any legitimate claim to the title of “physician” introduced himself as a retired pathologist. I later determined that fewer than 20% of the people who are members of the deceptively-named organization are medical doctors.
During that evening session, I sat next to a pleasant retired textile plant engineer; I am guessing he was a little hard of hearing. He provided amusing commentary that was not well hushed in spite of our direction from the facilitator to remain quiet while others had the floor. I did not try very hard to hide a big grin when he said, “anyone who is opposed to nuclear energy is either ignorant or dumb” and one of the antis from Asheville took offense.
Unlike most of the pronuclear speakers, who were either local politicians or representatives from groups like Duke Energy or the Chamber of Commerce, I chose to dress casually. I showed up wearing one of my favorite pro-nuclear tee shirts. With my newly grown facial hair, I sort of blended in with the organized group from North Carolina. It turned out to be an appropriate choice – like them, I was from out of town and getting involved in what some people consider to be a local issue.
One of Suzy’s colleagues had his cell phone handy and agreed to record my evening session comment. The quality is not terrific, and some of my word choices do not make complete sense without the context of some of the other comments that had already been made, but I still think the clip is worth sharing and discussing. Lesson relearned – next time I bring a tripod and a real camera.
There is plenty of room for more pronuclear activity at meetings like the one I attended last night. Most of the people were pleasant and interested in talking. Some were stubbornly adherent to their talking point handouts (one even showed his to me) but at least two listened with increasing interest and asked really good questions. They both took my card and promised to visit; maybe they will give me the opportunity to point them in the direction of real information that does not reference Mary Olson from NIRS, William Mangano, or Helen Caldicott.
I must make a confession, however, that would probably disqualify me from ever getting a job as a corporate spokesperson. During one particularly frustrating engagement, my opponent refused to acknowledge that the sun and wind do not provide reliable electricity.
I think he misunderstood my invitation to step outside into the still, DARK evening. He stubbornly kept restating his position about conservation, wind and solar and told me he thought I was being unreasonable by insisting that there was a three way choice between for reliable electricity among nuclear, coal and natural gas. I closed the conversation by responding, “Well, I think you’re an idiot” and departed the meeting. That was not the most politically acceptable response, but I was worn out. I admit, however, that I smiled all the way back to my room.
PS – It was good to see my old friend “Cybernuke”. We have both been engaged in pronuclear activity on the Internet since the earliest part of the 1990s, before Berners Lee even invented the World Wide Web, back when interesting, energy-related conversations were taking place inside USENET discussion groups like alt.energy.