CEO of Envoy Public Labs
Beyond Fear: How to Talk About Nuclear Waste
In this episode, Tay Stevenson shares his experience in talking to communities about nuclear and nuclear waste and why it’s so important to take fear out of the decision-making process when it comes to energy.
Note: This transcript is the raw transcript of this podcast. Minimal edits have been made only for clarity purposes.
Tay Stevenson (00:10):
Every one of those conversations, they want to know, ‘What about the waste?’ They’re not asking just because they’re afraid, you know, or they think something is bad. They’re asking because there is a sense of responsibility that I think is very noble and correct.
Did you know that there are half a million metric tons of nuclear waste temporarily stored at hundreds of sites worldwide? In the U.S. alone, one in three people live within 50 miles of a storage site. No country has yet successfully disposed of commercial spent nuclear fuel, but it’s not for lack of a solution. So what’s the delay? The answers are complex and controversial. In this series, we explore the nuclear waste issue with people representing various pieces of this complicated puzzle. We hope this podcast will give you a clearer picture of Nuclear Waste: The Whole Story. Opinions expressed by the interviewers and their subjects are not necessarily representative of the company.
Kari Hulac (01:20):
Hello, I’m Kari Hulac, Deep Isolations Communications Manager. Today I’m talking to Tay Stevenson, CEO of Envoy Public Labs, a company he co- founded to help companies, political campaigns and nonprofits create powerful communities of action. Tay previously was managing director of Generation Atomic, a pro-nuclear organization advocating for a nuclear future.
Tay Stevenson (01:49):
Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Kari Hulac (01:52):
I always start like to start by finding out how my guests got started in the nuclear world. So please share that story with us.
Tay Stevenson (01:59):
Sure. I suppose we should talk about this beforehand, but am I allowed to say the word as* backwards on this podcast, <laugh>? Cause I tripped. As* backwards into nuclear energy. That is, I mean, and really, I mean, I think it’s good to be honest about that because like a lot of people in nuclear energy, I mean this, like they’re kind of died in the wool, right? Like they, you know, they went on the nuclear engineering where they’re like some sort of engineering background. They’ve kind of come up through, whether it’s Navy nuclear or through a plant or whatever. And for me, like, and really for everyone who works at Envoy Public Labs, we’re very far field. We kind of came and found nuclear. And so my particular background, I have degrees in government and philosophy. And my first job coming outta college was, I was a state Senate candidate in Minnesota.
Tay Stevenson (02:51):
So I ran two state Senate campaigns, worked in nonprofit management and leadership and you know, really kind of, of that like grassroots politics and non-profit blend is kind of how you get to Generation Atomic. That’s, to make a long story short. And really, like my story and Envoy’s story doesn’t, isn’t complete without talking about my business partner, Sam Brewer, who he came out of, sort of the data analytics, you know, the big data piece that’s been so important in campaign politics in the last 20 years. So, we, we kind of joke that we make a pretty good political campaign or pretty good consultant if you put both of us together. And really that’s, I think a lot of the inner mechanisms of Envoy Public Labs’ start. And that’s what we’ve tried to bring. The nuclear is more of like a grassroots, bottom up lens, but with some particular market, market, you know, kind of a market and policy focus.
Kari Hulac (03:45):
And what was it about nuclear itself? Like what, what was behind you wanting to explore that vertical.
Tay Stevenson (03:54):
Industry? Yeah, so I mean, again, going back to like politics, I was, I’ve always felt very strongly that climate change, it will be the political, you know, sort of the community problem that’s gonna define my generation as a millennial, right? I, I think that, and you know, I had, I don’t really have evidence to the contrary. I mean now that a lot of us are in our thirties and forties, you know, where a lot of our careers in our lives have been defined by climate change. And, and to me I was looking for something and we look at, you know, kind of in hindsight at how I’ve gotten to at least this point there, there’s always something kind of bending me towards, you know, both policy, but really just trying to figure out how can I pull some of the levers to get carbon out of our air, right?
Tay Stevenson (04:44):
How can I, you know, give us a little bit more time to figure that out. And so, you know, whether it’s, I was one of the very few I, I ran as a Democrat where in Minnesota we have the Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party, I was one of the few Democrats that was well-known for being pro and open to the current generation of nuclear. And that was, you know, in 2010, 2012. And you know, I worked in a solar non-profit for six months trying to get a solar installation put on a hospital in rural Liberia, you know, so there were always kind of these things where I was nibbling around the edges of trying to get a climate change. And really with Generation Atomic, that was a grassroots effort to again, save, save, you know, current generation plants. But that was really just kind of an entry point to like, what is the nuclear industry? And I fortunately had a number of opportunities to get access to leaders and mentors in the industry who, you know, who, for whatever reason gave me their time and kind of showed me around and showed me the ropes.
Tay Stevenson (05:42):
And then I started to see nuclear as the biggest lever I could, you know, pull on, to try to help. And, really that kind of gets to the kind of the core, some of the core questions we’re, we’re chipping away at with Envoy.
Kari Hulac (05:55):
Right. That was kind of the next question I wanted to ask is: What is the key problem you’re trying to solve through Envoy? And maybe just kind of describe a little bit about what the day-to-day there is about.
Tay Stevenson (06:06):
Yeah, so, so at Envoy I think we initially started looking at the question of like, what is going to slow down or inhibit commercial deployment of advanced reactors? At the time, (Dr.) Rita Baranwal was the director of GAIN (Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear) and GAIN had just gotten off the ground. So, this was, you know, 2017 going into 2018 you know, GAIN is doing the voucher program still obviously, successfully doing the voucher program, but there was this sense that was growing, and it really came out of a forum that stakeholder engagement, you know, community, basically the utilities’ preparedness for the technology was getting called into question. I mean, we, we were all going to these same nuclear conferences and talking about how ready this technology was. And I mean, we really had convinced ourselves of that, but, you know, folks were noticing that, you know, the customers weren’t in that room and, you know, to the extent, you know, policymakers and NGOs and folks who are involved in energy planning weren’t necessarily inherently in those conversations.
Tay Stevenson (07:14):
And so initially I think we, we thought we were looking at, you know, hey, is this planning process, is this, you know, lack of policy momentum? Is this evidence that there might be, you know, a hurdle to commercial deployment of advanced reactors? What I think we’ve figured out by maybe year two, certainly within the last couple of years, is I think at the core of all of it, what we’re really focused on is taking fear out of the decision-making process when it comes to energy. And when you look at everything we do, it kind of pivots back to that central theme. And, and that’s really, I think, been kind of a key to our success in, in stakeholder engagement and market analysis, and policy analysis, is trying to understand the dynamics when you can get fear out of the equation. So you asked about sort of day-to- day and <laugh>, I’m like the absolute worst person to answer that.
Tay Stevenson (08:12):
You know, what I can say is that, you know, since we started in 2018 with, you know, a pilot program that was focused on engaging with utilities and their planning processes, I mean, the company has grown, our skills have grown, and just the demands on our services have become a lot more varied. Everything from, again, state level policy analysis, trying to understand, you know, both for the federal government where GAIN and other programs can help inform the decision making process, which, you know, is very different and separate from advocacy, you know, it’s really, you know, you have access to all the best information at the National Labs, DOE you know, through them, advanced reactor developers, how do we get that information out into the public domain so that, you know, that can be used to make really clear-eye decisions.
Tay Stevenson (09:03):
Right? And then more recently in the last couple of years, we have been working directly with advanced reactor developers doing on-the-ground stakeholder engagement market, and a lot of market analysis, some policy analysis that kind of blends into it. And so day-to-day is really just, again, frankly, trying to figure out how do we deploy advanced reactors? How do we get carbon out of the air? How do we make sure that everyone’s on the same page? And so, I know that’s kind of a dodge of an answer, but that’s the best I can do.
Kari Hulac (09:30):
So you’re working a lot with policy makers, you’re discussing the benefits of nuclear energy with them. Policy is certainly not an easy area to be in, especially for nuclear. So, are there maybe some anecdotal challenges or, and or your favorite wins, that you might want to point to?
Tay Stevenson (09:50):
Yeah, so I, you know, I’ll link this back to the sort of the fear-based decision making. And I think, you know, it’s interesting in politics right now, there’s a lot of, I mean, it’s not just nuclear. Like if we, if we kind of pull back a little bit and see ourselves within the greater context, like there’s a lot of fear that’s driving politics right now, whether, you know, and whether it’s you’re afraid of being canceled or you’re afraid of literally being hung, like, I mean, it’s, it’s all across this sort of stretch political spectrum. And you know what you kind of get a consistent sense of when you talk to your friends, like, you know, you’re just talking to regular people, which fortunately we get to do a lot, is that people just wanna have a conversation. They wanna feel heard, they wanna feel informed.
Tay Stevenson (10:35):
They don’t wanna feel like they’re running from something. They want to feel like they can plan their next day and make sure that they can get to their kid’s thing or, you know, do whatever they want to do without having, you know, (have) the feeling that the sky is falling on them. And with nuclear, that’s really hard, right? Because I mean, you think just culturally speaking, like if there’s a topic that is completely, I mean taboo, like you cannot talk about it, it is radioactive, right? You know, like, and you know, if, if you’re considering doing something that is just so beyond the pale, just something you, you like, it’s the absolute last resort. It’s like the ‘nuclear’ option. Our, our culture is baked into this notion that nuclear is on the extreme, and it’s something that it, you know, is sort of considered through a radical lens.
Tay Stevenson (11:21):
And when you, when you boil it down and you start to, you know, you have a little bit of a sense of humor about it, first of all, and then second of all, you break it down into some concrete information. That’s where I think like my big, my favorite policy wins kind of come from those small moments where you see like someone flip from, like being afraid of a topic to like having questions about it. And that’s a really pure moment. And I think like when you get enough of those strung together and when I say enough, like we, we operate on a philosophy that’s come to us from the ground, that there are essentially 16 people in any state or region or community that are making decisions, you know, and they’re not obvious. Like it’s just kind of, there’s no list on Google that you can find, but it’s sure enough, you know, you ask them and they know who the other 15 people are, right?
Tay Stevenson (12:09):
And they all know it’s those 16 people. And when you, when you talk to those 16 people and they all start asking questions about nuclear, that’s where you see things like you know, and certainly not taking credit for any of these primarily, but like, you look at what happened in the state of Washington a few years ago where, you know, you had this, you know, progressive climate bill or the Clean Energy Transition Act that, you know, it was not nuclear exclusive, right? Nuclear was an option. And all of a sudden Washington became a very interesting state for nuclear. And then Wyoming has this kind of interesting bill that we wrote about in the GAIN report. And suddenly Bill Gates has an idea and he wants to go and deploy in Wyoming. And Wyoming is an interesting state now. And then, you know, just this year we, we saw Alaska pass a bill that, you know, is gonna allow microreactors to kind of have a more standard path to, to federal licensing, just like it would in any other state.
Tay Stevenson (13:03):
I mean, in here, my home state of Minnesota, we didn’t get anything passed yet, but for the first time ever, a (Democrat-Farmer-Labor) Legislature introduced a pro-nuclear bill like that to me. You know … when you have Democrats in a state where, I mean, you talk to people, again, nuclear aside, the Prairie Island controversy and dry casks, which we can talk about later on at some point here. I mean, that was, that is acknowledged as the bloodiest worst, most divisive political battle in our state’s entire political history. And to, you know, to see progress where we’re looking at, you know, not just, you know, nuclear bad or good, but climate change, that’s, those are the little conversations that we’re trying to be involved in. And whether it’s, you know, on behalf of a, a company, you know, trying to promote, you know, primarily, you know, and that’s where we can do a little bit more advocacy work. But frankly, the, the bulk of the work we do is on that informing side of things, right? We’re, we’re trying to connect people to resources so they can, you know, be empowered to answer their own questions and make good decisions. And sometimes that means it’s not nuclear, sometimes it means it’s nuclear here, and a little bit of wind, a little bit of solar, a little bit of storage. But, you know, that’s the flexibility we’re looking for.
Kari Hulac (14:17):
You mentioned having a favorite moment where you see someone’s mind change and, after having so many conversations, do you have something you like to share with them or with a person in that situation, that you feel helps them maybe make that switch?
Tay Stevenson (14:35):
I definitely have some like greatest hits that I go back to. Like, you know, you have enough conversations with people and like, you know, even going back further, you know, before Envoy Public Labs, you know, the year we were doing Generation Atomic, I mean, we were doing straight up door knocking, like we were going around just talking to like people in their bath robes, however they wanted to answer the door, and just like, ‘Hey, let’s talk about this nuclear plant that’s down the road that’s closing down.’ And like, you, you have no idea what those conversations, you know, what’s gonna be the hook in or out. Like, you know, they might wanna be talking about like, you know, the playground equipment, then you link that to their kids going to the schools and the plant cost is, you know, 40 or to 80% of the, the school budget.
Tay Stevenson (15:16):
I think after doing a decade of advocacy training, my best advocacy training is like stop trying to be an advocate. We, I think, we’ve got enough advocates. Like really what people need is just like people to be people and have like good information and just like be willing to facilitate a conversation, which means being able to listen, you know, like actually hear input and then like respond as a human. So, like when you hear things like, I’m scared about this or that, you know, you don’t just necessarily attack, Well, here’s why you shouldn’t be afraid. Like ask a question about it. Like, okay, well where did you get that fear from? Like, you, you know, then they’re like, Well, I watched the Chernobyl movie and you’re like, I did too. It was really good. And then you can start talking about negative reactor coefficients because, you know, it was a scene in Chernobyl and like they know what that is, and that then you can talk about physics and people, and people suddenly are on kind of the in group and not on the out group. And that’s, that’s like, again, it’s not an anecdote, but it’s like, it’s, it’s <laugh>, it’s, it should be obvious. Like if you’re honest and treat people with respect, like you’re gonna have a good conversation. You might, you know, be able to share some reasonable information.
Kari Hulac (16:28):
So tell me a little bit more about you, you say Gen A, just for those who don’t know, people under age 24, for that door knocking. Anything else that surprised you about these conversations? What was that like? Thousands, You’ve talked to thousands of people, right?
Tay Stevenson (16:44):
<Laugh>. Oh, yeah. I mean, and you know, granted it’s, you know, people in Northern Ohio and that, you know, nothing, they’re great people. They’re about like the people around these parts. But, you know, it’s a limited sample size. But certainly, I think what was interesting is you know, we thought we could get, like we were going on untargeted doors, which means, I mean, we, we had no demographic data. It’s not like, you know, again, traditional campaigns where it’s like, you know who you want to talk to, you persuade, which that’s a whole other can of worms. But, you know, our point was like, hey, these are all community members, and this is a chance to inform anybody about this. And like, we don’t really care if whether they’re registered to vote or not, or you know, what, race, gender, age, any of the typical delineators, we just cared if they lived in the community and had an opinion on nuclear and we were willing to talk to anybody.
Tay Stevenson (17:32):
And so we just knock on doors and we thought on blind doors we could get 40 per, like, after an open conversation where, you know, again, we’re not doing the standard, like here’s the bullets and like, you know, <laugh>, do you agree strongly, You know, another, it was just like literally we would just talk to people, people we showed, you know, three kind of options of like, here’s like how much it supports the schools here, much jobs, and here’s how much it helps the environment. And it was like just a, you know, kind of choose your own adventure. You know, here’s, here are a few different options to start, or you can choose your own beyond these. And what we found was it wasn’t that we could convert 40% of people, We got 60% of people to say they supported nuclear if we just talked to them about it.
Tay Stevenson (18:15):
And you know, what was interesting is like, again, you think about like messaging and right, and like around that time, so this is like 2017, like one of the big messaging vogues at the time was like, nuclear, we need to get the message, the message out that nuclear is clean energy, Right? I, you know, I think we’ve done good job on that, but I think, you know, still working on it. What was interesting though is what we were finding is that if you supported nuclear, because you were an environmentalist, you were a third as likely to take action, which was, in our case, literally writing a physical postcard and mailing it to a legislator, right? You were a third less likely than if you supported nuclear because of an economic reason. And so, like, that was also one of the first times I think in my career that I realized we saw something that the rest of the industry wasn’t seen.
Tay Stevenson (19:10):
And we knew it was real and, and had not just the data, but we had the, the experience, the anecdotes to back it up. And that’s where we started getting, I, you know, and I in particular started getting very bold about our calls, about the importance of state level engagement. And in 2018 we sounded really crazy when we were talking about how important it was gonna be to engage the state policy, that it was going to be a funnel, a gate, an absolute hurdle to deployment, still is crazy in 2019, still is crazy in 2020. And then we had a pandemic, and then suddenly the pandemic clears up and all, and we have a lot of state level engagement that is very, very necessary, and it fits very much with sort of the tipping point that we’re seeing. And that’s, again, not uncoincidental.
Kari Hulac (19:57):
So how often in all these conversations, whether the door knocking or state level policy makers is the topic of nuclear waste coming up in your conversations?
Tay Stevenson (20:07):
The time. All the time. Yeah. I mean, and that like, and that gets again, back to the fear piece, right? And, and that’s, I, I think it’s going to be the central challenge of the nuclear industry, however you define it, and supporters of nuclear people who consider themselves nuclear advocates or, or you know, who believe that nuclear’s important to climate change. It, it is. If we don’t have an answer for nuclear waste, and I’ll, I wanna clarify what I mean by that, but if we don’t have an answer for nuclear waste within the next three, four years, all of these deployment predictions about late decade, you know, deployments are not gonna happen. And I mean, there are good reasons for that, but I mean, without going into like a bunch of detail and that folks don’t, you know, probably don’t care about it, it really is just something as simple as, you know, I have been to communities where, you know, I have had to say, Hey, we’re looking at your community as a place to put a new advanced nuclear reactor.
Tay Stevenson (21:09):
And again, every one of those conversations, they want to know what about the waste. They’re not asking just because they’re afraid, you know, or they think something is bad, they happened, They, they’re asking because there is a sense of responsibility that I think is very noble and correct. And, and so if we can’t meet the communities at that, we should, we don’t, we don’t have a right to deploy these, right? And, and that’s where again, working with, you know, like Deep Isolation and a number of other companies, another, a number of other concepts, this isn’t a technical problem. This is a policy problem, which is to say it’s a social problem. And, and that’s where I think we’ve done a very poor job of engaging society in that problem, you know? And because of that, people are very fearful of it. They’re very removed from it.
Tay Stevenson (21:56):
And so there’s a lot of ground to make up in, in terms of just bringing people into that conversation in an honest way so that within the next few years, again, we’re not gonna have an actual solution. There’s not gonna be a hole in the ground or a gate open or, or a cement pad laid out. That is not gonna happen. And that’s what, not what people expect, but people want a reasonable pathway forward that they can trust. And I think that that’s something that we can accomplish if we involve, you know, involve everybody, involve the people.
Kari Hulac (22:27):
Are there some questions that people commonly have, you know, beyond what about the waste that you have to educate them about? Or what are some other questions that you, that you’ve run into?
Tay Stevenson (22:37):
Yep. So like sticking on the waste piece and this is something that I’m developing as a theory. I don’t know how you would publish something like this, but I really think that people, the, the comparison I would make is this: I would imagine that a lot of people have access to this scenario. You are, or you know, you’re either one of two people in this scenario. You’re either person who knows a lot about football, or you’re a person who doesn’t know a lot about football, and you’ve either been the, one of the, you know, few of people who did know about football or the person who does know about football in a group dynamic. And it’s a lot like the person who doesn’t know about football, who’s just like, what are all these things?
Tay Stevenson (23:23):
And they want to participate and they say, ‘What about them Cowboys?’ Right? Standard, standard comedic trope. A lot of people know it. I think that when people, a lot of people ask, ‘What about the waste?’ It’s a lot like asking, ‘What about dem Cowboys? It’s not that they’re actually concerned about the waste. That they have some sort of like scientific reason or like some moral objection. Like inherently they may know that like there’s a lot of bad things that have happened along the back end of the fuel cycle historically for, you know, particularly if you’re talking about the military aspects of things, right? But they’re not asking as a challenge. They’re asking because they want to sit at the table and talk about the subject. And like, it’s culturally OK to ask it what is frankly kind of an abrasive question. Like, you know, you don’t, when someone talks, wind projects, no one stands up there and boldly says, ‘What about the waste?’
Tay Stevenson (24:19):
Right? I mean, when we talk about coal projects, we don’t necessarily even say, ‘What about the waste?’ right? Only in nuclear is it okay to just like go right for the throat. You know? And like, I think we should like take a step back and notice that and, and, and maybe there’s something deeper going on. Again, having had a few of these conversations, one of my theories is that it’s not really a challenge, it is really more of a question of like, ‘How do I get into this conversation?’ And when I treat it that way, like in like a good, a good <laugh> good question or a good answer is a question back of, well what about the waste? Like what do you care about? Let’s talk about that. Let’s have a, an adult conversation. I have facts. And not only that, I have a lot of friends who are way smarter than I am who would be happy to answer in your questions. And then eventually, like within 30 seconds, you’re talking about Simpsons and you know, nineties and whether NSYNC was better than Backstreet Boys and you’ve developed a rapport and then we can talk about what you really care about, which is how are we gonna change climate? You know, how are we gonna, you know, combat climate change and where does nuclear maybe fit in that?
Kari Hulac (25:24):
And how did your own awareness grow kind of your process when it came to, you know, knowing that the waste issue needed to be
Tay Stevenson (25:32):
Solved? So there are two people I have to credit with this metaphor. The first is my good friend Chris, who’s a teacher in Minnesota, who showed me the Simpsons clip. To use the reference again, were Homer because he is Homer is standing ankle deep in a tar pit and then proceeds to say, ‘This is no problem. I’ll just get my legs out with my arms and sticks his arms in and then says, this is a problem. I’ll just struggle way out my way out with my face.’ And then sticks his face hit and is like within 10 seconds submerged in tar. The other person is I got a credit is (Dr.) Mark Nutt at Pacific Northwest National Lab, who has said on many occasions publicly that he dipped my ankle in the tar. And so and really what the, the question he asked me that I could not give him an answer to, particularly after, again, we were, do we have been doing and do, do work for GAIN, you know, the Gateway for Accelerated Nuclear, if I haven’t sign posted the acronym, there it’s DOE initiative and we’re looking at barriers to advanced nuclear advanced commercial deployment, right?
Tay Stevenson (26:42):
Waste is one of those, like what the waste solution is, is absolutely a barrier. And (Nutt) said, ‘How are you gonna deploy an advanced reactor if you don’t have a waste solution?’ I didn’t have an answer for him. And so now we’ve gotta figure out, you know, again, and when I, you know, to bring it back to what I mean by a solution, at least in the next 10 years, you know, five, 10 years is something that, you know, as a community, we as a nation can trust as a viable and a viable pathway. Something that can and will be done that people have, can have faith in.
Kari Hulac (27:16):
So how you’ve talked a lot about your work with advanced nuclear and some encouraging developments in states who are looking at reactors. How optimistic are you about the future of reactors being deployed in the U.S.?
Tay Stevenson (27:31):
The Ben Franklin line comes to mind, you know, where he comes out after they’ve, they’ve, you know, written the Constitution and a woman asks him, you know, ‘Mr. Franklin, you know, what manner of, you know, government have you bequeathed us? And he says, A Republic, ma’am, if you can keep it,’ right, And like, I mean to say we’re at a tipping point, it’s like, you know, <laugh>, which tipping point. You know, there, there are a number of things that are coming together right now that look very much like we’re in the middle of something of an inflection point for nuclear. That we’re, we’re really, you know, we really are tipping into something bigger. I, I have a habit of it. It like nuclear is a really interesting industry because there are many people who are so alive who are like my parents’ age, who have been in the industry since essentially its commercial inception.
Tay Stevenson (28:22):
Like people who were in their 20s in the 1960s or like in their 80s. Now they’re still around and very active parts of the community. And so I’d sit down and talk with them and ask them, you know, what their perspective looks like, cuz I’ve been in it for like five seconds compared to them. And one of the, one of the people I really respect and trust, told me one time that this by his account, this is the fourth wave he’s seen on nuclear. And you know, of course me being me, I asked him, you know, is it possible, you know, to the sense of eternal optimism, right? Is this one different, right? Like, can this one be, is it possible that this one could be the one? And you know, kind of paraphrasing a little bit. And I, and it it dovetails well with, again, another bet that Sam and I made against the industry five years ago when we started (Envoy Public Labs) four years ago.
Tay Stevenson (29:11):
You know, it’s this idea that fear of climate change is now beginning to trump fear of nuclear and that people are being, you know, almost forced to have to, you know, to take a clear-eye view of nuclear. Now, I don’t think that that’s the best way that we want to back people into the topic again, which is why we’re trying to run, as you know, far and as fast as possible to, you know, to present a good face and get that information out on a little more friendly terms. But that to me is, I think where we’re at right now. And, you know, for I’m, I’ve had to start to correct myself because, you know, since I started, we’ve been talking about like this moment is coming, and there’s very clear evidence that this moment is here, and it has frankly been happening for about a year and a half now.
Tay Stevenson (29:56):
And so, you know, looking ahead at 2023, you know, you know, first of all it’s very clear just within the nuclear context, we had like, you know, 10 states last, last session that proposed different definitions for advanced reactor. It’s clearly on their radar in a way that it tangibly has not been in previous years, right? There was like one state that had a definition and that was Wyoming and they just had to change theirs because their definition didn’t fit the project that was going to be. So again, there’s a problem here that we need to start to address, but if we zoom all the way back and you look at, first of all again, there’s undeniable momentum just on climate change and it becoming a cultural tipping point, then you see policy moving around that you see specifically within that energy policy starting to tip.
Tay Stevenson (30:45):
And then what I, what I try to remind people about is like there are again just structural things, right? The fact that it’s 2022 now, and you know, again, everyone’s focused on the federal midterms, but a lot, a vast majority of the states, like I think I can think of three of them that are out of sync with this, but like vast, vast majority of the states have even year election cycles. So just like the federal Congress is being elected, a lot of the state legislators are being elected. And when I say a lot, all of them are, because in 2020 we had a Census, which means that every state just had to not only redistrict on the federal level, they had to redistrict their legislative districts, which means that every legislator at the state and at the state level is now up for election on top of that, just generally speaking, even because of this biennial cycle that happens with legislatures typically, and not on coincidentally because it’s right after an election, as opposed to right before it, the odd years tend to be a little bit longer, a little bit more policy oriented.
Tay Stevenson (31:50):
And so, you have these sort of cultural currents that are, that are happening well, you know, with climate change and energy and nuclear energy specifically. And then you have this very, you know, sort of once- a-decade structural thing that is happening that you know will just, will progress as the calendar progresses, right? And that’s where again, we’re kind of calling out and trying to muster, you know, as much as we can good information into the planning cycles because we’re seeing that these states are making not just once-a-decade energy decisions and we’ll be making them, you know, very likely in this next session and then kind of tailing out into the middle of the decade. But really those set, those plans are looking at 2050. So we’re talking about 30-year plans and once-in-a generation plans. And so if new what, you know, the extent to which nuclear will be involved in those plans will depend on how much we socialize this information and get it in there.
Tay Stevenson (32:50):
And again, make sure that policy makers, and not just the policy makers, the utilities who are writing their integrated resource plans, the NGOs who are commenting on the regulation, those, those (integrated resource plans) as I just mentioned and the policy that’s all up to folks who have nuclear information at their disposal and can give it to those type of people. And that’s gotta happen at not just the federal level, it’s gotta happen at the state and the local level as well. So, to bring it all the way around, you know, how optimistic am I, I don’t know, we have the facts on our side, it just depends on whether we can get ’em out.
Kari Hulac (33:24):
Just any other thoughts you’d like our listeners to leave with today? Anything I didn’t ask that kind of is burning in your mind to share?
Tay Stevenson (33:33):
I guess the one thing that I probably haven’t stressed enough, and I don’t, you know, we just haven’t talked about nuclear waste that often, which is not uncommon with me. Like it’s one of the things we do is we don’t typically lead with it. Not cuz we’re afraid of it. We just, we like to let people bring that topic up. And so I guess my, my advice so to speak, as someone who’s had to talk about nuclear waste and frankly has had the opportunity, I mean that not in a cheesy way, like I, I’ve gotten some incredible opportunities to meet, I mean, meet with people who are making very serious and important decisions and I, I get to be a person in those rooms talking with them and, and you and you know, we’re basically developing trust with them to, to make good decisions.
Tay Stevenson (34:19):
And that’s, that’s an important thing that I don’t take for granted. And in those moments, it’s, it is really important to know that like there are good technical solutions out there, right? And I said earlier, like, and I, you know, you hear it all the time at again, nuclear conferences you hear nuclear, you know, nuclear’s, nuclear’s not a problem. It’s a policy problem, right? And for a number of years until I met Mark (Nutt), I I kind of bought that answer and didn’t realize, oh, he was talking about me, I gotta go solve this. Like the policy people are gonna have to solve this. So, you know, for those people who are drawn to the back end of the fuel cycle for whatever reason you know, whether it is just, you know, you’re, you’re an engineer who this is what you do, or you have a, you know, you’re an engineer who’s does something different and is curious about it, there’s plenty of those.
Tay Stevenson (35:09):
Or again, you’re someone like me who’s, you know, no practical degrees whatsoever, but you know, I can write a pretty good paper and I can, you know, talk to people, a useful skill that doesn’t matter how you come to it. There, there is an opportunity right now to talk to people about nuclear waste and folks, again, that, and if we’re talking about fear-based questions, fear-based problems, waste is probably the heart of that, right? And it’s, it’s the one where I guess my message is, it’s the thing you should be least afraid of. It’s, it’s well understood and there’s, there’s so much opportunity to just alleviate fear by again, whether it’s having a sense of humor about it, you know, talking about, again, growing up during the Simpsons and, and like whatever access you have, but like, when you can humanize the problem and put a human face to it and like, you know, again, not treat it so seriously. I know it’s serious, I know it’s a serious issue, but like, I mean, it’s also kind of funny, like it’s nuclear waste. Like it’s such a big problem that you have to be able to laugh at it a little bit.
Kari Hulac (36:15):
Well, and what I’ve observed in the industry itself, and you can, I’d love to know your opinion if you’ve observed this as well, is that industry itself doesn’t talk a lot about it.
Tay Stevenson (36:25):
Talk about dry casks is a really brilliant industry solution to a very dumb government problem,
Kari Hulac (36:32):
But is that hurting the ultimate solution down the road? Like if, are we so, you know, set in that messaging that people then aren’t motivated to make a more permanent solution?
Tay Stevenson (36:47):
I think certainly there’s no way to solve a problem without talking about it. I mean, I think, you know, for, if we want to get really deep about this, I know this, you know, the, the Deep Isolation podcast, like, we wanna get really deep, I mean, this is what separates us. I mean, this is what makes us humans is our ability to communicate, right? And, and think long term, right? Think, think about the future, talk, talking, you know, multimodal ways like that is what makes us deeply human, right. And yes, this is a huge problem, right? It is a thing that it is a, as some have described it, a new fire, right? That our generation will have to bear and bear responsibly.
Kari Hulac (37:27):
Well, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been great to hear what you’ve learned and look forward to seeing what you accomplished next.
Tay Stevenson (37:35):
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