“Nuclear energy is misunderstood and undervalued”
"We created this organization as a way to share our stories and establish a dialogue with other people seeking to protect nature for future generations." Heather Hoff and Kristin Zaitz are both mothers, and both work at the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in California, where they met. Their organization Mothers for Nuclear defends nuclear energy and the continuity of the site, which they consider crucial for energetic and environmental stability.
You founded Mothers for Nuclear on April 22 2016, Earth Day. How did the idea come to be?
Kristin Zaitz (KZ). Heather and I both worked at Diablo Canyon Power Plant in California and shared a lot of the same interests. Both of us had started out suspicious of nuclear, but through years of questioning and learning more about it we realized that nuclear energy aligned with our environmental values.
In early 2016 we heard that Diablo Canyon was under threat of premature closure. The more we looked into it, the more we saw what a big issue this was, not just for Diablo Canyon but for nuclear plants across the US and the world. We were so concerned about the backwards progress on climate that nuclear plant closures would bring that we were compelled to speak out.
“We were so concerned about the backwards progress on climate that nuclear plant closures would bring that we were compelled to speak out”
We started thinking about forming a nonprofit and, after brainstorming, we decided that Mothers for Nuclear was exactly what we were: two mothers who were tired of groups who are against things without offering an alternate solution.
We wanted to advocate for solutions, and we wanted to be transparent about exactly what we were advocating for. Mothers for Nuclear was born on Earth Day, 2016 to highlight our care for our planet and our desire to promote the use of nuclear energy for the benefit of humanity and the environment.
“Mothers for Nuclear was born on Earth Day, 2016 to highlight our care for our planet and our desire to promote the use of nuclear energy for the benefit of humanity and the environment”
Do your families support you in this project?
Heather Hoff (HH). We started Mothers for Nuclear when my daughter was six years old, and she’s been alongside us from the start. When our kids were younger they would accompany us to most events. Lately, my daughter has become an impressive energy communicator, making videos and graphics to explain complex topics like why we can’t power a modern society on solar power only, and why we end up using fossil fuels when renewables aren’t online.
How many mothers are currently involved?
(KZ). We are proud to have an active group of mothers and other supporters across the world. It’s hard to know an exact number, since we don’t track membership - we are more interested in active participation! We have active chapters in the United States, Canada, Germany and the UK, and we’re always looking for new supporters who want to bring the Mothers for Nuclear message to their area.
You have mentioned that mothers should be the main defendants of nuclear power. Why?
(HH). Throughout history, mothers have been caring for their children and for their communities, and actively trying to change societies for the better. Climate change has been called the biggest environmental issue of our time, and mothers are active in many groups trying to advocate for climate action.
Nuclear power is an amazing resource for countries looking to reduce their carbon emissions, and it also brings so many other benefits to humanity. Mothers can be some of the most important and influential voices in climate and energy discussions when they couple their care for humanity with their knowledge of the value of nuclear.
“Mothers can be some of the most important and influential voices in climate and energy discussions”
Which would you say are the main advantages of nuclear power, and what type of actions are you developing to spread this information?
(KZ). When we started Mothers for Nuclear in 2016, we were mostly focused on the environmental benefits of nuclear energy.
Nuclear uses a relatively small amount of materials and a small land footprint to produce a large amount of electricity, which is appealing to people like me who care about resource conservation. We also learned that most people don’t know that nuclear has low lifecycle carbon emissions and no carbon emissions during the production of electricity.
“Most people don’t know that nuclear has low lifecycle carbon emissions and no carbon emissions during the production of electricity”
Just saying “nuclear is carbon free” or “I support carbon free nuclear energy” can have a bigger impact than you’d expect when talking to people who care about the climate. As we’ve continued nuclear advocacy through these last few years, both of us have come to appreciate the other benefits of nuclear even more - especially its reliability and its low cost.
Providing reliable, clean and low-cost electricity is a humanitarian imperative. We like to be ready to talk about any of nuclear’s benefits depending on what the audience is most interested in.
“Providing reliable, clean and low-cost electricity is a humanitarian imperative”
So whether we’re talking to other moms, politicians, media outlets, etc., we try to find out what they care about and then talk about that.
How has your activism influenced your community and its opinion regarding nuclear power?
(HH). Over the last six years we have gradually become an authority on nuclear energy. Historically, the “expert” voices were primarily against nuclear, so it’s great to see this shift where our local news, policymakers, business owners and general public are coming to us with their questions and concerns, looking for honest answers and not simple fear mongering.
Have you noticed changes in US public opinion regarding nuclear in the past few years?
(HH). We have certainly noticed public opinion changing, both anecdotally through our experiences talking with groups and individuals and through polling results that show public opinion is on the rise. Kristin and I are both based in San Luis Obispo County in California, where we have one operating nuclear power plant (Diablo Canyon), and a recent poll showed that 74% of San Luis Obispo County residents and 58% of Californians support keeping Diablo Canyon open.
This seems to be a significant increase in support when you consider California’s long history of anti-nuclear advocacy. A growing group of pro-nuclear advocates, including Mothers for Nuclear, academics and political leaders have been working to change minds in California and around the world. I think this increase in vocal and visible support for nuclear has helped to change outcomes for existing nuclear plants and build support for advanced nuclear technology, as we are seeing more and more pro-nuclear outcomes - including a new proposal from the Governor of California to reverse the plant closure decision on Diablo Canyon and instead pursue relicensing.
We notice that young people tend to be more supportive in general, and they readily understand the climate issue. This attitude gives me a lot of hope for the future of nuclear, because young people who want climate action are eager to talk and learn about solutions.
“Young people tend to be more supportive in general, and they readily understand the climate issue. This attitude gives me a lot of hope for the future of nuclear”
What future projects do you have at Mothers for Nuclear? Do you cooperate with other organizations?
(KZ). We have great partnerships with organizations around the world, and we hope to continue building these relationships and develop more opportunities to spread the pro-nuclear message. We love collaborating with other groups, since we know each communication style will reach different audiences.
Nuclear energy communications have historically been technically focused and intended for small or already supportive audiences. We want our message to go beyond that, so we’ve been intentional about working with groups who will expand our communication reach.
You are also present in other countries like Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland… What differences do you perceive in these other countries regarding nuclear energy?
(HH). Every country has its own specific challenges, which is why we think it’s so important to have a local Mothers for Nuclear chapter wherever we are sharing a pro-nuclear message.
While there are country-specific issues, some of the main principals of our communication techniques remain the same as do the facts on nuclear energy, so we can all support each other.
What do you think needs to change in order to pursue a real global conversation regarding nuclear energy?
(HH). We debate this internally a lot, amongst ourselves as well as personally. Did we have anything to do with the recent shifts? Perhaps. We hope so.
We also think that the energy crisis due to both climate change and war is a strong driver in this conversation and has forced many people to reconsider their views on nuclear.
“The energy crisis due to both climate change and war is a strong driver in this conversation and has forced many people to reconsider their views on nuclear”
The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, where you both work, is set to close in 2025. What actions have you taken to encourage the extension of its operating life?
(KZ). We have been working since 2016 to encourage the State of California to change course on Diablo Canyon. The planned closure in 2024 (unit 1) and 2025 (unit 2) was politically driven, underpinned by anti-nuclear sentiments and rampant misinformation. We have worked to shine a light on the truth about nuclear energy, which is that it is a low-cost and reliable clean energy supplier and critical to our energy stability in California.
“We have worked to shine a light on the truth about nuclear energy, which is that it is a low-cost and reliable clean energy supplier and critical to our energy stability”
The same situation exists in many areas around the world where nuclear energy is misunderstood and undervalued, causing poor policy decisions to threaten existing nuclear plants and hamper the prospects for new nuclear. Fortunately, in California there are strong signals now that the State is realizing the truth of the situation, and work is underway to potentially reverse the 2016 decision. Mothers for Nuclear is actively engaging in this discussion and providing information to State Legislators to help them change course.
What would you like to add?
(KZ). When responding to questions or concerns about nuclear, lots of organizations tend to stick to the facts. We must also communicate about the emotions surrounding nuclear energy. It can be scary and we should admit that, not deny it. People like to feel that they are being heard, and that respondents are attempting to understand why they are scared rather than simply denying that they should be scared in the first place. We have done something different by sharing about how we were once scared also, but gradually, over lots of time and effort, changed our minds. It helps sceptical people feel comfortable that maybe they could change their minds too.
(HH). We found a different way to communicate about nuclear energy - one that doesn’t talk excessively about safety or how plants work - and this new conversation has been steadily gaining momentum since we started Mothers for Nuclear in 2016.