September 26, 2022
Bret Kugelmass [00:00:05] We're here today with Alexandra Hoffman, who's a senior reporter at HuffPost, and done some of the best journalism, I think, on nuclear energy, climate science and policy overall. So thank you so much for joining us.
Alexander Kaufman [00:01:09] Yeah, thank you for having me.
Bret Kugelmass [00:01:11] I'm a big fan of nuclear and I'd love to hear about your journey, how you discovered it and got so much good information. I really think you're writing on this topic of some of the best that I see out there. But before we get there, I'd love to just hear about you as a person. Tell us, where did you grow up? I think you're from Long Island right?
Alexander Kaufman [00:01:26] I am. I am from Long Island. Yeah, I grew up in Huntington. So, yes, I'm a fourth generation New Yorker. My family has seemingly never been very curious about anywhere beyond the 30 mile radius of the tenements where they showed up 100 years ago. And that's fine by me because I love New York. But so, yes, I grew up in Huntington. I live now in Astoria, Queens. I began my journalism career in Huntington, actually, as an intern at the Long Islander, which is a small weekly newspaper. The claim to fame is that it was founded by Walt Whitman, and I got my start there and then went to college in Boston, worked briefly at the Boston Globe before going to Los Angeles, where I worked at the Web site, The Wrap, and I was a media reporter, and I learned a lot about doing business reporting there. I really love L.A., but I think I'm too much of a New Yorker to live there full time. So, I left after a year. I came back to New York and I worked briefly at the International Business Times before joining HuffPost in 2014, where I started as a business editor and kind of went from covering business to covering climate and energy issues.
Bret Kugelmass [00:02:50] Have you noticed an inflection points or maybe it's just gradual in terms of your writing quality? Have you ever looked back at some of the things you've written and said, Hey, I'm way better now? And do you know where that came from?
Alexander Kaufman [00:03:02] Yeah. I mean, I certainly I go back and I read things I've written and I'm utterly humiliated by them, not only because of the prose, but because of how because of the limits to the information that I was taking at that given moment in time. That is evident to me from the way I wrote about things and the way that it may have framed things. And I you know, I find that a little bit embarrassing, but I also see no shame in that because I think part of why I chose to do this for a living is that I feel like it's a you know, you get to continuously intake new information. And, you know, I don't consider myself an advocate. You know, I'm a reporter. And so my my my stories and my thinking have changed as new information has come in and helped me to think of those things in that different kind of way. You know, whether. Have there been moments that I have really reflected on, on my writing, you know, I mean, all the time I wish that there were some actual, you know, colorful anecdote that I could share that that illustrates how I have transformed or some kind of epiphany that I have. It's a moment in time, but that's just not the case. I mean, I've always read I tried to read a diverse array of writers. I tried to pick up on little tools from from each of them. But for the most part, I just try to write things in a way that I think is clear and understandable. And I try to write for an audience that I don't want someone to need a master's degree or even necessarily bachelor's degree to understand the things that I'm writing about. You know, I think one of the privileges of working in a place like HuffPost is being able to reach people who might not afford or prioritize in their budgets, costly newspaper subscriptions. And so I tried to write clearly in that way, but I also try to write in a way that makes me want to read, you know, and I like I like writers who are deliberate about word choice and who appreciate that readers like to have a scene painted for them. I can't just consume a wall of information I need. I need something to latch on to. I need something to relate to. I need something to picture. And I try when my editors permit me to, to, to, to paint as, as specific and interesting of a picture as I can.
Bret Kugelmass [00:05:42] How much of writing? I realize this may vary from journalist to journalist, but in your case, how much of it is figuring out what to say versus figuring out how to say it?
Alexander Kaufman [00:05:52] That's a good question. You know, I would say that's probably not even a journalist journalist situation, but a story by story situation. You know, I write news stories. When I write news stories, those are quite formulaic and straightforward. And so there is a teacher in journalism school, the inverted pyramid, and it's about prioritizing information and presenting it clearly and succinctly. And so there's not much to yeah, there's not that much thought that goes into every sentence of a piece like that. But for a longer story, you know, I tend to first focus on what it is that I want to say and what I feel like was the takeaway of the reporting that I've done. And I try to decide when I have arrived at the conclusion of the reporting I have done. And then I spend varying degrees of time, you know, massaging language. You there there are times that I spend days on a paragraph and that can be really challenging and stressful. And there are times that certain stories are are pretty easy to write and, and come out in a, in a straightforward way. And that's always a gift. And those are days that you really ride high, feel like. You know, I feel very fortunate that the words just came to you and then brace yourself for how quickly that high can crash and you can find yourself stuck on on how to phrase something or stuck on whether you've done enough reporting to have reached the conclusion that you're sort of coming to. And those those days can be solved with a lot of reconsideration and imposter syndrome.
Bret Kugelmass [00:07:46] And how does it work at HuffPost? What's the relationship like with the editor? How much help do you get bouncing ideas off and how does all of that work?
Alexander Kaufman [00:07:56] I mean, I've been very fortunate to work with really great editors throughout my career, and especially at HuffPost. You know, when I started covering climate and energy and environmental issues full time in 2018, late 2015, 2016, that was under Kate Shepherd, who has since left. Now she is the managing editor at a website in North Carolina called The Assembly. But she had been a the climate and energy writer at HuffPost before me, and she gave me plenty of ideas and sources. And we would talk at length about any story that I, I was pitching. And it wasn't like a formal process where she would give me the green light or the or the red light, but rather ideas that I had. And if we both agreed it was a good story, then I'd move forward with it. She left earlier this year. I've been working now with a guy named Jordan Zorn, also just tremendous editor and doesn't have the same background in climate and energy issues. But because of that, is really curious about certain things and is really helpful to me in understanding what people who aren't following this day in and day out and having curated their Twitter feeds around a certain type of subject matter might be interested in and curious about. And he has been very curious along with me in issues such as nuclear power. And and it was a very strong supporter when I was going over to the Netherlands in that he said that I had to make time to see the plant there and use that to understand what was going on there, given that he had that baseline understanding of what was happening in Germany just over the border. So so my editors have been very supportive and very helpful. And, you know, it's a casual but a very enriching, collegial relationship.
Bret Kugelmass [00:10:01] That's amazing. But you touched upon something that I've struggled with in terms of science communication also. How do you know exactly who is going to be your audience and when to put something out there in the public? And how do you know what their baseline knowledge is? To me, this is like the hardest thing because I could spend an hour just trying to build up the foundational concepts to deliver a point, but if someone over gets it, they're going to be bored by that. If someone doesn't have information, they might be confused by the point. I was like, How do you balance against that?
Alexander Kaufman [00:10:33] It's a it's a big challenge, but I think it's one of the things that is exciting about covering energy and climate issues. You know, that this is something that. Tends to be technical and wonky and finding ways to communicate topics of either incredible precision and technicality or just, you know, just grandiose that that is is difficult to find parallels for in any other realm of politics or or writing on those subjects. I think that that is part of the thrill of it. I don't know that we always know exactly what the audience understands, but I try to use myself as the stand in for that audience or try to use my parents as the stand in for that audience. And, you know, I mean, and, you know, I most of the people in my life are, you know, smart people who like to read but don't necessarily follow these topics because, you know, but they are active people that are making decisions about their day to day lives at any given time. And so I try to figure out what I know about that can be relevant to them and can fit into, you know, preexisting narratives or associations that that they might have not to not to misleadingly tell a story as part of a different narrative, but to have certain signifiers that allow people to understand where a story about nuclear power or story about direct air capture fits into the broader discourse that, you know, you assume that that a reader is is aware of.
Bret Kugelmass [00:12:16] That's yeah, that's one of my favorite topics. So I'm so glad you've been writing about that as well. It's real. There's plenty on that, too. I mean, especially since I feel like it was missing from the narrative for so many years. I remember I wrote one op ed in my life on USA Today. I mean, I've written one that's the only one that ever. And then I'm not on Twitter and it's for a reason. And it's because some famous climate people start attacking me over that, and I'm like, Man, it's just so good to see it become even more mainstream now with all the direct, with all the talk of direct or capture. Whereas before, I feel like certain people in the climate community are like renewable pushers or whatever. Like, they just want it. So great to see you discussing it.
Alexander Kaufman [00:12:58] Yeah. And look, I mean, I've been I have I have faced that that same kind of attack on Twitter that where it's, you know, an ad hominem attack. And if you say something that breaks with the orthodoxy that certain people have have adopted, and that is reinforced by activist groups or NGOs that kind of hold a certain line and help to dictate what is taboo and what isn't. You know, that people, even when faced with, you know, I think really good faith proposals or ideas or just trying to grapple with certain things that they jump to a kind of, you know, really brutal and critical response. You know, assume that somebody who doesn't toe the exact same line that they do is a climate denier or, you know, doesn't care about decarbonization because they are proposing a different way of doing things. I think this is a very troubling phenomenon, and it is something that I think exists probably in many realms of public discourse, although the one that I'm most familiar with is in climate and energy issues. And I have tried my best always to be a fair reporter and to to try to understand viewpoints that I instinctively disagree with as charitably as I possibly can. If I find them persuasive, then then I want to be persuaded by the best possible information. And if I don't find them persuasive, I want to be able to argue against them in the most persuasive possible way or identify people who can argue against them in the most persuasive possible way. So, you know, I while I find this to be a difficult and ongoing issue that I think Twitter and social media generally reinforces in really negative ways, I think that there is a real hunger for information that isn't pandering to people's preexisting worldviews. I have found that in writing stories about these these topics that have otherwise gotten a lot of criticism from people whose viewpoints I might respect on other issues. And, you know, far from discouraging me from writing about them, I actually am encouraged in the sense that I think it offers some hope that climate change won't be wrapped into these kinds of culture war battle lines that we see on so many other topics. And that, I think is very frustrating and frustrating personally. But. It's frustrating in the grander sense that it frustrates and makes the possibility of change seem farther on way.
Bret Kugelmass [00:15:52] How do you view your context of the reported in the same domain? Do you like first read what's out there so you can bring forth a different perspective, whether it's worth your time investing in? Or do other people not have a bearing on what you do? How do you see that?
Alexander Kaufman [00:16:06] I mean, I try always to read everything that's been written on something, particularly if I'm writing about it or I'm new to writing about it. And I try to make that as as clear as possible. I try to lay back to people who I think have done important work or landmark stories on any given Jack that have changed the way that they get talked about. But for the most part, you know, I mean, I try to look at the landscape of other people that are writing on this. It has grown tremendously in the past few years, which is wonderful and reflects, I think, the magnitude of the story of climate change. But I I'm not as interested in, you know, competing with people to write the best version of something that other people have written. I'm attracted to stories that I think haven't been told correctly, haven't been told at all, or are matters of a lot of debate and nuance at a time when I think that a lot of media is geared toward more simplified, opinionated writing, which serves a role. And I'm not I'm not bashing the hot take economy that that that is important for for some people and for some subject. And that can sometimes be the gateway drug that gets someone into a deeper type of writing. I'm not as attracted to that. I just don't think I'm as good at it. And I think there are plenty of people who are. And so I try to seek out subjects where I think I can make some kind of a difference on the way that they are being discussed and where I think that, you know, some misinformation or myths or cultural taboos are standing in the way of having a really sober conversation about something that requires that kind of discourse.
Bret Kugelmass [00:18:01] Okay. Well, all that sounds like nuclear energy. So is that the one you were thinking about in the background or do you have a whole list of ones that are like that? I mean, I just love to hear more about your journey towards learning more about these topics that are nuanced and might have some social taboos. Please.
Alexander Kaufman [00:18:17] To be honest with you, you know, nuclear is sort of always loomed in the background as something like that. But the first topic that I guess was the gateway drug for me of sorts was actually direct air capture. You know, I was struck by how fierce a lot of the criticism was to a story that I had written about a study maybe two years ago or a year ago that was just screaming out what, you know, how much direct air capture we might need by a certain date in order to stay within two degrees of warming or 1.5 degrees of warming. And, you know, this struck me as a really important conversation to have, because it was a question I was asking myself a lot in the back of my head. You know, what happens if we do not mitigate at this speed and with the success that we would need to in order to avoid that kind of warming? What happens? I mean, there's no evidence to suggest to me so far that the world is really moving in that direction at the speed that that we need to go in. And the answers that I would hear from some people were really rather weak. To me, you know, when pressed about how dire things seem to be becoming, you know, the answers were, you know, that we are going to abandon economic growth and have a complete and utter revamp of of of our economy, that we need to have a revolution that that overthrows capitalism before we can have decarbonization, you know, that we need to have economic metrics that model the US on due time. You know, I don't I don't think that that any of those ideas are, you know, unworthy of conversation and consideration. And I welcome, you know, a great diversity of voices in my writing and in what I read. That being said, you know, I don't know how how I can meaningfully communicate that to, you know, regular people who are just trying to get by, you know, people who are among the more than 50% of Americans who said they don't have $1,000 for an emergency if something like that happens. You know, people who it's it's exhausting enough to figure out child care, you know. Getting the windows fixed on the house, you know, making sure that the car is repaired. And, you know, there's someone to pick the kids up from school. You know, people live really chaotic lives. And, you know, I realize maybe that some proponents of things like degrowth might argue that, you know, that they have an answer to that. I find that there is a degree of chauvinism in in telling people that if only they adopted your radical view of how their lives and their desires, their consumption patterns and their hopes for their children and where they lived, that those things, you know, if only they surrender agency over all those things and adopt their world view that all the problems of the world will go away. You know, I, I, as a Jewish person, there's something very evangelical about that. And I just I don't I don't believe that in in anything that says that if only my worldview becomes hegemonic, the problems will be solved. And so that requires, I think, entertaining different types of solutions and tools. You know, and it just didn't make sense to me that, you know, technology that could help to balance the ledgers of carbon in the atmosphere should be completely written off because there are bad actors using that to avoid making difficult changes in their own business practices. That seems to me to be a kind of logical fallacy that puts us at tremendous risk. And, you know, and I don't say that lightly, but I look at the issue of adaptation as as an important parallel here, where if you look back at what was being written in 23, 24, all the way up to 2009, quoting people like Al Gore, you know, they were dismissing doing any kind of investment or planning for climate adaptation because of the moral hazard that posed to the difficult work of mitigation. And when we look back now at the heat waves that are killing people and and and when we look at things, I mean, the runways are melting in the UK right now and they're not able to move. Would it have been a real risk to long term mitigation to be planning for those things? Would it be a risk to long term mitigation to be thinking about how we avoid flooding in coastal neighborhoods or how we start having difficult conversations about moving people from those places? You know, it seems to me like we lost a tremendous amount of really vital time where we could have had more sober discussion of how we do those things, given how difficult it was going to be and given that we still had some time. And so when I look at that, I see a mistake. And I don't want to be a part of making that same mistake again with other tools that I put in the same category as seawalls or other types of adaptation. And so that led me to look very differently at something like direct air capture. It led me to have a more nuanced opinion other than this is a false solution that must be written off. And if it is mentioned at all, we have to smear those who who bring it forward and are pointing to empirical evidence that suggests that it might matter. And that then opens up the door to other things that I think get that similar type of treatment are dismissed as false solutions, where it's not always wrong that that some malevolent actors are using something as a way to obscure reality or mislead policymakers to allow for more fossil fuel production or, you know, to to misdirect climate policies. But, you know, I think that these are important things that matter and that I think readers. I don't think that it I don't think that it prevents readers from encountering these ideas. If you purge them from respectable discourse, you know, it leads them to turn instead to, I think, some of the worst bad faith purveyors of that information and assume that this is some kind of, you know, secret knowledge that should color their worldview and should be, you know, might be the panacea, you know, the the golden unicorn that that they can that they can use to to be smarter than everyone else on climate. And I don't think that that's true. So I feel like having an adult conversation that grapples with the gray area difficulty of these problems is is. What is needed. And rejecting that just to me is, you know, abandoning having a seat at the table for things that are likely going to happen anyway.
Bret Kugelmass [00:26:04] Yes. That discourse around moral hazards and not wanting to talk about mitigation. Why did that become the mainstream perspective or did it not as just a few loud voices and everyone else just kind of nodded along, like, why? What do you have to do to convince them? It seems to me like your perspective is like you've explained clearly it's the rational one. Like, actually, if you want to talk about moral hazards, not doing something for people who might get hurt, that's the moral hazard here. It's like, do you have a sense of why the major narrative goes one way or the other?
Alexander Kaufman [00:26:37] Well, you know, I think that there are certain political actors who help to dictate how the public discourse goes, particularly around, you know, environmental issues, energy issues. On the one hand, you might have big business groups that promote a certain perspective that is, you know, in line with with what their members or what certain corporations or industries might want. On the other hand, I think you have a very vibrant and influential, you know, green NGO space that has its variety of reasons for promoting certain things and not others. You know, I don't claim to be any kind of expert in political organizing or, you know, coalition building or any kind of things like that. I'm a humble reporter. Never, you know, because I've been doing journalism since I was a teenager. I've never formally participated in any kind of activism beyond my union, organizing a union in my workplace. You know, of course, I have opinions and viewpoints I have expressed publicly, but I just I don't I don't have that that kind of background. And I don't claim to have a sophisticated view of what you're supposed to do if you are Greenpeace or the Sierra Club or any of these other organizations that may, for a variety of reasons, have a certain viewpoint on a certain topic, or feel that pushing aggressively for one specific goal is really important in a, you know, in a political negotiation for ultimately reaching a compromise outcome that's more palatable. Yo u know, those are types of political theater that that you know, I will know I don't always agree with it, but but I understand the role that it plays in our broader public discourse. The problem, I think, is that those groups on either side tend to have a lot of sway over journalists who just are generalists and don't have a background in these things. And it's a lot easier to outsource analysis to various groups or various actors than it is to read whole books and studies and research papers and policy proposals to ultimately come to some kind of judgment about what ought to be depicted in one way or the other. And so I think that gives a lot of power to these interest groups that have various reasons for doing things but don't have the fundamental responsibility or role in the public discourse that a journalist has to try to tell a story that is as trustworthy and as balanced and believable and grounded as you possibly can. I think that is a unique role that reporters are supposed to play and don't always. And it's not this isn't my knocking, you know, my colleagues in the industry either, because the pressures of this industry are immense and most places do not afford their writers the liberty to take extended periods of researching a subject before publishing something or writing about a subject so that you a through a certain amount of knowledge to be able to state things that might challenge the orthodoxies within whatever that the public discussion is. And so I think that those are I think those are kind of systemic problems that that lead to a kind of warped depiction of certain debates in public. And I would say, you know, I realize I'm criticizing, you know, some environmentalist perspectives on various topics, but, you know, the the the original version of this is the the hope of climate denial. You know, where where you had, you know, certain players that were able to exploit the need to seek balance and the need to outsource, you know, information gathering and commentary to other players and were able to use that to present a complete the warped sense of what the debate over the accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere actually looked like. And so, you know, I would say that that is one of the worst examples or the most dire examples. But but that same dynamic plays out, you know, in varying degrees of good or bad faith, I think, on many subjects.
Bret Kugelmass [00:31:26] Yep. Yeah, totally. I'm you know, when I first started getting into climate, it's it's funny you mentioned direct air capture because that's where I started. Also, I started thinking. Problem is we have carbon in the air and it just seems like part of the solution to be getting out of the air. You know, just starting with some ideas, you know, that led me to, well, you know, it's going to take a lot of power and that power has to be very low carbon. So what are our options? And that's how I got to nuclear at least. You know, I've seen some articles you've written about nuclear. I've read off some of the titles of Morison's. You know, we got already at the dawn of the nuclear energy renaissance, you've got Finland on the brink of a nuclear power game changer. And one never had I mean, very few times because it's so well written The Netherlands want. So I'm like as a journalist I'm going to rent.
Alexander Kaufman [00:32:21] Here not how please.
Bret Kugelmass [00:32:22] How do you get into this story like how do you find this decided it was worth it. You said earlier you actually got there, too. I mean.
Alexander Kaufman [00:32:30] Yeah. Yeah. So, you know, so I was actually I was going to be in the Netherlands for a conference where I was moderating a panel in in Sudan. And, you know, whenever I have the ability to travel for those reasons, I try to make it well worth my time. And, you know, I, I love to I love to report stories from from other places. I mean, it's just a great way of learning and understanding a place. And, you know, at a time when I think that so many newsrooms across the US are not able to send reporters to places and tell stories from those places, that there's a responsibility to tell those stories when I can. And so I knew I was going to the Netherlands. There were two subjects I was really interested in that in the Netherlands, one is green hydrogen, which I had a story about that hopefully in the next month or so. It's it's, you know, a couple other things that need to come first. And another subject that I think fits into this this false solutions debate that we've been discussing. But but the other one was nuclear, you know, and I, I knew that they were planning on building new reactors so that they were discussing it. And, of course, I knew what the trend was in other parts of Europe. And, you know, having been writing about the embrace of nuclear by different countries, seemingly more and more every month since the COP, that just struck me as a really fascinating story. And then when I found out that they only had one reactor, which I was surprised by, I just figured, you know, in my mind, the Netherlands is is this pretty large industrial player that punches above its weight. You know, I just assumed, given all of their other heavy industry, that they might have built out their nuclear sector in a bigger way at the point that they were still building those things. And so it was a fascinating topic to me. And after being in Finland the month before and writing a story about what's going on there and the opening of all the three and the work that they were doing on Anglo, it was a subject that I think, you know, we had demonstrated with that story that there's a clear hunger among readers of HuffPost for stories that help them understand what's going on with nuclear, what role is it supposed to play and in the climate story, and what are other countries doing and how might that differ from or be parallel to the United States? It just seems like such an obvious thing to try to answer that question in the Netherlands, which is a country that feels much more culturally and politically akin to the United States, more so than in Finland, and a country that, in embracing nuclear power, was, you know, really carving out a different path than its closest neighbors. And so those tensions, as I don't really think of them as contradictions, but those contrasts, I think, make for a really interesting story and make for something that can help readers to understand the debate. You know, and I, I can read I can listen to a debate, actually, between debaters and I can read, you know, dozens of stories. And sometimes it's just one particular story that is telling the story of a debate, but it's being refracted through a different country or different players or a different bill or a different proposal. And it just helps me to understand these things better. And so my hope was that by going to the Netherlands and seeing what they were doing, you know, we might get a better understanding of what's happening in that country, but also what's happening in Europe and how it should relate to our own country.
Bret Kugelmass [00:36:43] And we encourage everyone to go and read this article, you know, I've been praising you for, but I'll just say it again. It's so well-written just from a story perspective, so good and easy to understand, navigates a complex subject, illuminates such a broad issue. It's just so good. And so I encourage everyone to go read that in your other work too. Can you give me or us the audience just like, what's your take on nuclear? If you could summarize it, what have you learned? What's happening? Where's it going? Where's the debate being framed correctly right now and what's the correct range?
Alexander Kaufman [00:37:15] Yeah, I mean, I, I don't claim to be an advocate for or against nuclear. You know, I try to I see myself as a reporter, as a, you know, as an information filter. And. With the skills that I have and with the reading and analysis I do on the broad subject of decarbonization and on climate, I try to give people the best information that I have and give people the clearest sense of what is really happening as opposed to what might happen or, you know, somewhat what a utopian future looks like or overfocus, I think, on who the bad players are and kind of feeding into that that feedback loop of that disastrous story of climate change. As I'm 31. I really would like to still be alive and thriving in 2050. You know, my wife and I would like to have kids at some point. Yeah, I'm pretty invested in knowing what to do about this this issue. And so, you know, when it comes to nuclear, you know, it seems to me like, you know, this was a technology that was clearly quite effective. You know, fusion reactors are very effective at generating electricity in huge volumes on relatively small areas of land and with rather small volumes of fuel and even comparatively rather small volumes of waste, even though that is an issue that I think has continued to dog the nuclear debate. Now, I understood most of my life that people didn't want to be near a nuclear reactor. I vaguely understood the fears of a meltdown. You know, I remember Fukushima quite well. And, you know that that always made me wonder what role it was supposed to play and how it stacked up to other energy sources. And for a long time, I kind of bought into what was the mainstream line that, you know, solar and wind were all we really needed. And if we could just get fossil fuel lobbying out of the way, that it would unleash this solar and wind revolution and all of these other energy sources that got us through the 20th century would be found in history books. And that's it. And the more I started to read about how you actually reach net zero or zero emissions, the last, I was convinced that there are that net that renewables right now on the market are up to the task of doing it completely. And I have done very few, if any, convincing models that that suggests that they could go it alone in the U.S. to say nothing of the rest of the world and and issues and that unique circumstances in many of those places. The Finns, for example, would laugh if you told them that they could use solar power to keep their keep their lights on when they are in darkness for months out of the year. But I. You know. So I think that this I think that this is the real state of play when it comes to discussing nuclear. I think that it is an extremely powerful and useful source of energy generation. I think it is a you know, it is something that that public opinion on. It has been primarily influenced by some distinct disasters that, you know, if only there were more pop culture references to the horrors of coal ash contamination or of, you know, the choking to death on PM 2.5 because you live next to a gas or coal plant that is routinely spewing that out next to a highway. And so, you know, all of those things, I think those points of comparison were really important to understand and to understand how to do a real assessment of the risks when it comes to nuclear power. And I saw that those things were just not part of that broader conversation. And then so, you know, very clearly a useful tool for generating a lot of low carbon power, very clearly not being adequately compared to other sources of generation and the risks from pollution associated with those. And then on the other hand, you know, there is the question about the cost and the time it takes to build these things. Know and this is where I see a lot of the anti-nuclear advocacy really zeroing in on now that some of the questions around pollution or radiation or or nuclear waste are less compelling given what people understand increasingly about air pollution from fossil fuels and about climate change. You know, the the push that comes from these things are too costly. It's a distraction. And they you know, they can't be they just don't work from a financial standpoint and therefore are not worth building. And, you know, talking to people about this, you know, you see that there is a reason for these things. It's not always specific to to nuclear that, you know, we've had this hollowing out of the workforce that we just haven't been building them for the past 40 years. And we haven't been building them in part because for the past 40 years we've been building and relying more and more and more on gas and other fossil fuels, and doing so without any clear grappling with the risks associated with relying more and more on fossil fuels. And so we just you know, there are there are answers to why it's expensive and why it takes a long time and it doesn't necessarily have to be that way. You know, I always find it surprising when people, you know, the same people who are pushing back against economic austerity in other realms of politics and policy or who are pushing back against the fossil fuel, people who claim that, you know, renewables and batteries are overly dependent on subsidies and government support to make them viable, you know, that somehow they rely on those same austerity arguments or questions of what government support should look like when it comes to a disfavored technology and end solution. And so I don't claim to have the answers about how you make those things cheaper, faster to build, or how you avoid, or how you might come up with a permanent waste repository that is more successful ultimately coming into operation in the United States. But I don't think that those are insurmountable obstacles to using this technology. And quite the opposite at a time when it seems like the broad public line that you see, not just from liberals or Democrats, but from many people writing about climate, that, you know, the failure of the narrow Democratic majority in Congress right now to pass climate policy is the end of any kind of decarbonization policy that strikes me as so and so irresponsible of a claim to make. I mean, if you're a Democrat looking to get reelected, by all means, it's powerful argument. But to repeat that as as a fact strikes me as something very frightening and, you know, silly in particular, because the tool that we know works to decarbonize the grid in a very big way is one that. Happens to be widely supported by Republicans claims. You know, this is such like this is clearly an area where where you could have some kind of bipartisan agreement about how to do these things. And unlike with renewables, where there aren't clear examples of large industrial societies completely revamping their energy systems to be completely dependent on those technologies, you do have that with nuclear. You know, like I'm not saying that France is a perfect model for the United States, but it exists. And so, you know, I look at those things and that makes me think that this is something that is that is very seriously in play that people are going to rely on more. And I just don't really know what the what the alternative is to this. You know, I mean, I do have these discussions with people who I otherwise respect, but who are very married to some of the main line view on on climate and to some of the the Duma is, if you will. And they are more willing to countenance the idea that we are going to reach a point where we decide to completely, completely change consumption patterns and shrink down society and limit what the U.S. economy or the global economy is designed to do. And, you know, I the idea that that is somehow an easier thing to countenance than, you know, building nuclear reactors or keeping nuclear reactors open is just the you know, I mean, I think it's it's lunacy, you know, and and I don't know how you can with a straight face, argue that to regulate people who are not already sort of in the, you know, in the the choir of the converted on, you know, really radical environmentalist policy. I don't know how you can possibly argue that to them more easily than that. They should accept something that perhaps in 2012 they were very scared of and averse to. And I find it even harder when this is not a theoretical thing. Now, I don't understand how this could be a foreign concept to people when 20% of our electricity is being generated by reactors. People know that they work. And people in communities that are not, you know, deep blue liberal coastal states, you know, work at these places. They understand them. They have union jobs at these places. It seems to offer a lot of the promise that Green New Deal activists and others have put out there, where we could take climate it away from being an environmental issue and turn it into populist industrial policy that allows us to prosper and create good union paying jobs. You know, I mean, renewables I think renewables are extremely important and will continue to be a bigger and bigger part of the grid. But renewables haven't really delivered on that. Most of the country, nuclear has. And so just in the sense of no political coalition building, it strikes me as a very strange thing that, you know, in throughout the Trump years, nuclear and coal were politically lumped together and were championed by the same actors and opposed by the very people who claim that we are on the edge of Armageddon. And so, you know, that all leads me at this given moment in time with the information that I have and the way that I'm looking at how other countries are making decisions, it leads me to believe that nuclear is not only quite viable and important, but that it needs to be part of a broader conversation and that people need lay readers, regular people. The kinds of people who read HuffPost and I think read my stories need to know that it's time to have a serious adult conversation about these things. And it's not just talking about climate policy. And decarbonization isn't just some, you know, long term utopian goal. You know, it isn't how we just pray and pay our arms. We're all going to get into heaven someday. And it's going to be, you know, one degree of warming and that's it. You know, I think I think people want to have a serious discussion about what it's going to take. And I think that there are many things about nuclear that are very attractive. And it's surprising to me that it hasn't played a bigger. Art in that broader discussion around climate.
Bret Kugelmass [00:50:48] Yeah, though I think people like you are going to make it happen. That's pretty awesome how you think about it. What else more do you want to learn on this topic or are you going to learn more on this topic? Or what's the give me the focus and then I'll broaden this question to other topics in the sector and then we can wrap there.
Alexander Kaufman [00:51:03] Sure. I mean, I am really I'm interested in you know, I'm interested in a lot of things. I'm really interested in seminars and what you know, what obstacles that they may actually face. You know, I mean, I would I am I'm excited by some of the rosier projections about when they will reach commercial viability. And I've heard arguments from people in the industry, both who are making these things or just looking at their overall and or looking at, you know, maybe five years out, early 2030s, when when we might see a real boom in these things, you know. Man plans and God laughs. So, you know, who knows what may occur between now and then? But I am interested in knowing what could occur, and I'm interested in knowing how viable that will be as a technology in the future. It seems like most people who are bullish on We are in the US are waiting for that to hit the market, to really plot out what that what new nuclear will look like in the US. So very curious that on Mars I'm deeply interested in thorium and molten salt reactors and how viable that might be, what it would require for that to be a serious contender in the industry and what the obstacles are around that. And you know, likewise, I'm really interested in what regulatory reform might be like for nuclear what what common sense things you could do to safely continue to deploy more of these things. And I don't just I don't limit that to nuclear, you know, I mean, I think there's a lot of really interesting regulatory reform around siting and read NEPA reviews and and and the like that are critical to, you know, building more renewables and building more transmission lines to make those renewables more viable on our grid. So those are topics I'm I'm I'm really interested in, I guess one other and I'm fascinated by hydrogen production with reactors. That's sort of another thing where, you know, I like with direct air capture, you know, I hear these arguments around green hydrogen that we just have to dismiss it out the gate because it will require too much energy. And I was like, you know, if your answer to things is like, we just say no to things that are going to require a lot of energy because we're unwilling to work with particularly abundant sources of zero carbon energy. I mean, that just seems to me to be a completely losing argument. I mean, the other part of it, it's like Bitcoin. I'm not I'm not like a pro crypto guy, but you know what? Your answer can't just be that you will shut down anything that ends up being a large source of electricity demand. I don't think that that's how you can run an economy. And frankly, I think if anything has been demonstrated to us in the age of the Internet, you can't just end things by fiat. Know, people are very creative and have a an enlarging set of tools to do things for themselves. So how do you facilitate those things? It seems to me like the goal of decarbonization policy should be figuring out how you create as much zero carbon electricity abundance as is humanly possible because that is what would be required to electrify the things that need to be electrified and hopefully power. The many things that we can't even envision being, you know, subjects of debate or uses of energy today. You know, I mean, we weren't predicting crypto being this big thing, you know, ten years ago when I found myself writing about it. And not again, I'm not defending that. But but I don't think that your posture has to be that you oppose anything that deviates from, you know, some, you know, some some some false rosy picture of the perfect ecological balance that we once had before the Neolithic revolution. You know, I think that that there needs to be we need to be thinking about how we how we just build as much clean energy capacity as we possibly can to decarbonize everything that we need to decarbonize now and tomorrow. So those are big questions I find myself really interested in around this subject and things that I'm I'm I'm excited to see that many other people that are much smarter than me are asking and seeking to answer these questions, which means there's plenty for me to write about.
Bret Kugelmass [00:55:55] And we could not end on a better note than that. Kauffman Everybody.
Alexander Kaufman [00:56:00] Thank you so much for having me.