Mothers for Nuclear
January 2, 2023
If you enjoy this Titans of Nuclear episode, listen to our interviews with Chris Keefer (Host, Decouple Podcast), Jason Crawford (Founder, Roots of Progress), and Isabelle Boemeke (Nuclear Influencer, Isodope.)
Bret Kugelmass [00:01:20] We're here today with Heather Hoff, who is the Co-Founder of Mothers for Nuclear. And just from my perspective, over the last five years, watching you as like one of the leading nuclear advocates. Just... It's just been so impressive. And so thank you for taking the time to come on our show.
Heather Hoff [00:01:35] Thanks for having me. I'm happy to be here.
Bret Kugelmass [00:01:38] So, man, there's so much we could talk about California nuclear and I'd love to get to the history of it in general. But before we do, let's just learn a little bit about you. Where did you grow up?
Heather Hoff [00:01:50] I grew up in Arizona, in the boonies kind of as I like to call it, a little place called Top of the World. And some of my family and friends used to tease me about being from, you know, middle of nowhere or end of the earth or whatever. We didn't have very many resources or neighbors. Kind of lived on our own off the land, conserving, composting everything. I had a composting toilet, which was very embarrassing for me when I got to junior high and even sooner when I had friends over.
Bret Kugelmass [00:02:24] Your parents were like hippies or something?
Heather Hoff [00:02:26] A little bit, yeah. Yeah. My mom definitely had like the brown and yellow hippie bikini and like, took pictures out on the boulders, on the rocks, you know, when she was pregnant with me in her bikini.
Bret Kugelmass [00:02:39] And what did your dad do for work?
Heather Hoff [00:02:42] My mom was a teacher, so she was the breadwinner for our family. And my dad did all kinds of odd jobs. He was a welder, woodworker, landscaper. He did, you know, well pumps and chainsaws and all kinds of lathe work. And yeah, basically, kind of helped to build our homestead up there with, you know, a water system that pumps water from our well, which didn't produce very much, up into a tank above our trailer and kind of supplied the water pressure for our house.
Bret Kugelmass [00:03:18] And what did your mom teach?
Heather Hoff [00:03:21] Elementary school. Yeah. Yeah. So it was an interesting childhood growing up. Lots of people loved to come to visit me and I loved to show off where I lived. It was really fun. I had free reign of the hills, you know, like exploring boulders and chasing cows and rattlesnakes and...
Bret Kugelmass [00:03:38] I was going to ask you if there were scorpions and rattlesnakes out there.
Heather Hoff [00:03:41] Yeah, scorpions for sure. I remember one time there was a rattlesnake near our house and my dad would never kill anything. He caught it somehow. And I remember this image of him, like holding it while he was riding his bike down the street, holding the rattlesnake to go take it, you know, further away and let it go.
Bret Kugelmass [00:04:01] Wow. Okay. And then so I have to ask, like, just reflecting on your childhood and your upbringing... Have you like connected the dots as to how that led to what your career decisions would be?
Heather Hoff [00:04:15] Oh, it's totally different than what I expected or ever planned. I kind of was good at math and science and just always assumed that I'd go into engineering. I didn't really know what I was going to do with that or why I really liked it... If I actually really liked it... and ended up in materials engineering at Cal Poly here in San Luis Obispo, where I still live. And after I graduated...
Bret Kugelmass [00:04:42] Beautiful part of the world.
Heather Hoff [00:04:43] Yeah, it's pretty amazing. My mom's a twin sister, and her family lives here, so I've been coming here since I was little. You know, we kind of trade holidays. They would come up to Top of the World and, you know, sometimes play in the snow. And we would come here and get to experience the beach, which is pretty amazing. Montana de Oro is one of my favorite places in the world, and that's a state park that's just north of Diablo Canyon on the coast here. And here's a little picture of Diablo Canyon. It's beautiful also. And yeah, I had no idea until I really started working there. It's just... It's like an extension of the state park, so it's pretty great.
Bret Kugelmass [00:05:22] Can you can tell me the history of that power plant specifically?
Heather Hoff [00:05:28] Generally. Well, I guess what I knew of it in college is there's this big industrial facility out on the coast, and as an engineer, I was kind of interested in it. I did go on a tour once and really had no idea of what I was looking at except it was just lots of big equipment.
Bret Kugelmass [00:05:46] How old were you when you went?
Heather Hoff [00:05:49] Probably 20... 19 or 20. And so kind of fascinating and kind of scary, you know, big and noisy, lots of equipment. And I didn't really... I don't know... think about what it was even for, you know, generated electricity. I was a materials engineer, so I was more interested in the equipment and the steel and you know, all the components of the plant were pretty cool.
Bret Kugelmass [00:06:15] And those tours... Because I'm like actually a big fan of us opening up nuclear facilities to more public tours, I think like...
Heather Hoff [00:06:21] Me too. Yes. Yeah. So I have to mention that now... Yeah, I do work for the company that runs the plant, and I walk a very fine line between my advocacy for nuclear and for Diablo Canyon and my employment at the plant. You know, for the last six years, my company has been kind of marching down this path towards decommissioning and towards shutting down the plant. And all of my messaging has been the complete opposite of what they want, and they've been quietly tolerant of me - mostly - and it's been a little challenging. So I just want listeners to know that nothing that I say here today represents anything my company would say. It's all my own personal opinion and for Mothers for Nuclear. And yeah... So after I graduated in Materials Engineering with my degree, I couldn't find a job locally. So, you know, it's a fairly small town, not like where I grew up, but you know, it's not a big city either. There wasn't a whole lot of options in engineering, so I manufactured rectal thermometers for cows for about nine months, and then... That's my favorite job title. Then I worked at a winery in the Tank Room, which was really fun. I kind of like manual labor, you know, like shoveling and pumping things. It was my first exposure to kind of like big pumps and valves, you know, like pumping the juice over and... Super fun, but just for a harvest season. And then I worked at a clothing store where I made $7.50 an hour and I eventually was like, "This is ridiculous. I need to get a real job. I have an engineering degree," and, "Okay, I guess maybe I'll try Diablo Canyon." But I was pretty nervous about it. My uncle is a physics professor at the university and he had made a lot of comments that made me really nervous about radiation and my mom had also made comments. She told me, "Well, I don't know if you should be working there in your reproductive years." And I was like, "Oh, that's scary. Like, what does that mean? I don't even know how to process that."
Bret Kugelmass [00:08:24] But you did it anyway...
Heather Hoff [00:08:26] Yeah.
Bret Kugelmass [00:08:26] So do you have some sort of like defiant streak to you or...?
Heather Hoff [00:08:30] I don't know what possessed me necessarily, just other than I'm a really curious person. I like to ask a lot of questions, and I happened into a job in operations, which are all of nuclear really, but especially operations... They have a motto, like a tool, about questioning attitude. They want you to ask questions. They want you to understand what you're doing before you go out in the plant and do it, so you don't make mistakes. And so they're like, "Yeah, ask us everything." And I'm like, "Okay, I'm gonna ask you everything." And I think I drove my coworkers a little bit batty at the beginning, you know, "What about this and what about that? And this sounds really scary. Why are we doing it this way? And oh, my gosh, what?" You know, like I had so many concerns and so many things about nuclear just sound kind of naturally scary that I... Yeah, I really, really dug in hard on a lot of issues and also heard, you know, a lot of things that were scary that I was never able to really verify...
Bret Kugelmass [00:09:27] Like what? Do you have any examples of that? Like, do you remember any of the misconceptions that you had early on in your career?
Heather Hoff [00:09:33] Well, I'm hesitant to get into this too early because I just thought of a crazy story that I haven't really shared with that many people yet, even, you know, through all of my advocacy. But it's not a misconception, I don't think. But I'm not totally sure. When I was a brand new operator, one of the things that super worried me... I read this operating experience, which is something that nuclear industry does really well at. We all share information. So when something happens at another plant, we get all the details, you know, like, "Here's what led up to it and here's what happened and here's how they dealt with it."
Bret Kugelmass [00:10:08] Through like INPO or something? Exchanges this?
Heather Hoff [00:10:11] Yeah. There's all kinds of industry groups that are designed for sharing information to better our performance so we don't make the same mistake twice and we can be prepared for, you know, anything...
Bret Kugelmass [00:10:22] Super cool actually that the nuclear industry does that.
Heather Hoff [00:10:24] It's really something that's different than a lot of other industries and something that's... Yeah, definitely made us what we are today in terms of being the safest and being, you know, such a reliable operator of these complex facilities.
Bret Kugelmass [00:10:38] Yeah, that's what I would have gone to first. Just like the high uptime is definitely got to be partially attributed to the sharing of the learnings like...
Heather Hoff [00:10:45] Yes, it's amazing.
Bret Kugelmass [00:10:45] Nuclear power plant operators are like world class. It's like the all-star team of all power plant operators. Right?
Heather Hoff [00:10:51] Yeah, right. Yeah. And it's always like any little mistake is like a huge deal too. You know, like you hear of something that happens at a nuclear plant and people immediately get scared like even if it's just like a paper cut. Like, "Oh, an employee got injured... at nuclear!"
Bret Kugelmass [00:11:05] Come back to your story. What was the thing? I'm sorry, I interrupted your story.
Heather Hoff [00:11:09] Yeah, the story. Well, so I read this description of this event that happened at another plant. And it was like... Employees make coffee with radiation water. And I was like, "What? Oh my gosh..." Like, somehow they had cross tied their domestic water system and it had like... With one of their plant systems. And I was just like... I was terrified. I would not drink any water from the plant, none of the drinking fountains. I always brought all my own stuff for years and years. And I just... It was the most ridiculous thing that I'd ever heard of happening. Like, how can this happen?
Bret Kugelmass [00:11:44] I mean, did that actually turn out to be true or is that just people were...
Heather Hoff [00:11:47] Well, that's why I said like sometimes I'm not totally able to verify...
Bret Kugelmass [00:11:50] Or is it just like the sewer lines got crossed or something? It's like, yeah...
Heather Hoff [00:11:55] Well, yeah, that wouldn't be quite as bad, but no, you wouldn't make coffee with that. So I don't know exactly what happened. I don't remember the details now, but I just remember reading something similar to that and just being terrified for years, you know? And I think that's part of the thing about nuclear is we have so many systems and such complexity. It's really hard for people to understand when something's truly a safety issue and when it's not. And over the years, you know, even though I never really got an answer to that question, I'm just like, "Well, does it even matter that that happened?" And like in our industry, we're like, "Yeah, every little thing matters." But for like real life, in terms of harming human health or the planet, like a lot of the stuff that we care about doesn't really matter. And so I try and keep all those things in context, you know, like they might sound scary, but compared to what? You know, like what's the impact and what's the alternative? And I think it's really important to talk about all those other things.
Bret Kugelmass [00:12:52] Yeah. Oh, totally, totally. I think that that ability to put something in context... Like that is definitely like an elevated style of thought.
Heather Hoff [00:13:01] Yeah.
Bret Kugelmass [00:13:02] Most people are just like, you know, most people don't think that much. They just react. They just say something. They just kind of repeat what they heard the last five people say about any given topic. But no, I just love... I love how you incorporate like a questioning perspective into everything that you do. Tell me about the roles that you had at the plant. You said you were an operator. What does that mean exactly?
Heather Hoff [00:13:26] Yeah. So when I was first hired, I was a nuclear operator or a plant operator. Some other sites call them equipment operators. So I was in training for a really long time before I even went in the plant, you know, classroom training to learn about all the systems and learn, you know, basic thermodynamics principles and about pumps and motors and valves and a lot of the theory behind the equipment in the plant... And then spent a whole bunch of time, you know, under instruction with other qualified operators who were in the plant, you know, learning from them how they do their jobs...
Bret Kugelmass [00:14:02] What did they do? Like maintaining equipment. Is that the idea? Like, how do I designate that role from, like, a control room operator? Like, what's the difference?
Heather Hoff [00:14:10] Yeah, well, the control room operators would always call us the eyes and ears of the plant, so we would go and do rounds on all the areas of the plant, look at the equipment, record parameters for trending, you know, so we could tell if a piece of equipment was degrading over time. We could do preventative maintenance. We would identify any minor leakage or minor problems with equipment that we think, you know, might turn into something more. We'd identify that and kind of flag it, and then the maintenance group would come in and actually work on it and fix it. So we did a very minor amount of maintenance, you know, like just tightening things and basic housekeeping and keeping, you know, oil wiped up, keeping the plants safe for people to be in and really monitoring the condition of everything that was happening.
Bret Kugelmass [00:14:56] And my understanding is - and correct me if I'm wrong on this - my understanding is that, in the nuclear industry, this recording of data is still a very manual process. It's like you'll go, you'll take a measurement as a human being, you like write it down on something, then you'll like enter it into a database as opposed to like there just being like a network of sensors that's automatically capturing everything?
Heather Hoff [00:15:17] It's a really weird combination of both because plants have lots of different, you know... Plant operators have gone, you know, different levels in terms of trying to upgrade their systems and processes to support more advanced technologies. So I think, you know, my company has done an amazing job with Diablo Canyon and we have a lot of really innovative kind of new ways of doing things that other plants don't have. But, you know, maybe they have different ways...
Bret Kugelmass [00:15:44] Are there things that are still manual, not because the technology or the will isn't there to upgrade it, but because of regulatory requirements about like how data should be captured and transferred?
Heather Hoff [00:15:53] Yeah, for sure. Yeah, definitely. Lots of our, you know, digital control systems took a fair amount of effort, you know, to get approved by, you know, different requirements that we have for safety. You know, like there's a whole level of approvals and considerations that other companies that use maybe the same technology for monitoring might not have. That nuclear is like a level above in terms of making sure that we can, you know, take data in appropriate fashion and make the right decision about it and decide how to operate the plant. And so it's something that I got really interested in as a control room operator, too, because, you know, we had so many different systems that were getting upgraded to digital systems while I was an operator. And so I got to... Got to see the transition and the differences and there's plant systems that, you know, control important... Like our turbine control system and our main feed water control system. And those are important and they have to function right. And then there's other systems like our plant process computer that just kind of give us information but don't control anything. But they're still also very important because we use that information to make decisions. And then there's, you know, like different low level things out in the plant or maybe just engineers use them for trending or whatever. But yeah, it's been really interesting to see all the different variety of systems and how our engineers and designers, you know, best think about how we're going to use the data from those to better operate the plant.
Bret Kugelmass [00:17:27] And what about like the reactor control itself? Is that mostly analog still?
Heather Hoff [00:17:32] Oh my gosh, same thing. It's like a weird combination of like manual... Like we have a touch screen where, when we maintain our power levels, the main way that we do that at Diablo Canyon is with what we call a chemical shim. So we have...
Bret Kugelmass [00:17:47] That's increasing the percentage of boron in the water?
Heather Hoff [00:17:50] Yeah. Or decreasing it. Yeah. Taking boron out, performing a dilution of the plant...
Bret Kugelmass [00:17:56] And that's called reactivity insertion?
Heather Hoff [00:18:00] Yes.
Bret Kugelmass [00:18:01] Trying to get all the... yeah.
Heather Hoff [00:18:03] Yeah.
Bret Kugelmass [00:18:04] You take something out to insert reactivity.
Heather Hoff [00:18:06] Yeah. Yeah. Oh that's funny. That's not quite the discussion I was expecting to have with you. But yeah, I love talking about plant operations and how we control reactivity. And speaking of that, you know, a lot of people ask us about Chernobyl, the miniseries, and I don't know if you've seen it, but there's that one...
Bret Kugelmass [00:18:24] I couldn't stomach it after the first episode there's just too much like sensationalizing...
Heather Hoff [00:18:29] Yeah, but there's some really great stuff in there, actually, and it's one of the best descriptions that I've ever seen about reactivity and like positive and negative and like how they balance if you insert positive reactivity and then, you know, like you need to insert negative reactivity. And that's how you keep power levels stable. And like at Chernobyl, you know, like they talked about, well, "We took this away and then we added this..." And that's how things got really out of balance. And it's a really great description of that.
Bret Kugelmass [00:18:56] When I visited Calvert Cliffs, they told me... And this is the first time that I heard that PWRs are run with their control rods full out during normal operation. Is that totally common across industry now and is that the same at Diablo?
Heather Hoff [00:19:09] Yes. Yeah. It's pretty normal.
Bret Kugelmass [00:19:10] And then... Okay. The control rods are out. We're using chemical shims to control reactivity on like what time scale? Daily, monthly, weekly?
Heather Hoff [00:19:20] It depends on the time and core life, like whether we have a brand new set of new fuel. Like if we just did a refueling outage and we have, you know... That's where we shut down a unit on purpose and we do a whole bunch of maintenance that we can't do when the plant's online. And we also add one third of our fuel as brand new fuel assemblies, and the other ones are kind of like reused over multiple fuel cycles. So we have some new fuel on the reactor and it's very reactive. We kind of load it a little bit more so that we can... As a, you know, we also call it "burning out," which is something that's a little confusing for people because we say we don't burn stuff in a nuclear plant. Technically, yeah, I don't know. We say that we burn the uranium. So, that's funny because yeah, nothing combusts. It's just fission.
Bret Kugelmass [00:20:14] And then as the control room operator, how much are you involved in like the neutronic planning? Let's say, you know, what percentage enrichment of which fuel bundles go where? Is it just like someone else decides and then they like tell you? Or are you like...
Heather Hoff [00:20:33] We're not involved in planning that. We have a set of reactor engineers. They do a core design and decide, you know, which fuel assemblies go in which locations in the core. There's 197 fuel assemblies that are, you know, like make kind of a general circular shape in the core. And so they have to balance that with, you know, the new fuel assemblies and the old ones. And it all depends on the operational history. You know, if we had to ramp down or shut down for various times and maybe we didn't use up as much of the uranium in certain fuel assemblies as we did another one. So it's all controlled and calculated and balanced by our reactor engineering group. And one of the things that's really cool... I have to tell you a story about our reactor engineers. They're great. And, you know, we were headed down this plan to shut down in 2025. And that didn't quite line up normally with our fuel cycle, which is normally 18 to 22 months, you know, that we run one unit. So we're planning ahead for how do we design this fuel cycle that's a shorter fuel cycle in preparation for our shutdown date. And I was like, "You guys. We're not going to shut down. You have to plan for like a normal fuel cycle because we're going to keep running. We have to." And the reactor engineer... He told me, was so sweet. He was like, "Oh, well, I'm going to make that one just for you, and I'm going to put it in the Heather folder, so we'll be ready."
Bret Kugelmass [00:21:57] That is so cool. And I bet your optimism was just, like, infectious as well. Like, there is really something to be said for, like, willing a reality into existence.
Heather Hoff [00:22:08] Yeah. So now we actually need that core design. So it's really great, and it's the Heather design.
Bret Kugelmass [00:22:13] Yeah. I want to get to that story, but I just want to wrap up the technical side just a little bit first. Are there other methods of control that you have for the core, such as like temperature shimming or anything like that, that you also have in your like toolset to control reactivity?
Heather Hoff [00:22:29] Yeah, sure. Oh, my gosh. Yeah. It's been eight years since I was a reactor operator. I write procedures now, so... But yes, we have three main methods to control reactivity. And you already talked about the chemicals. The boric acid, boron takes neutrons out of the reaction. So there's a neutron population in the core that we maintain stable. It's the chain reaction of neutrons and that's how we keep our constant power level. So you put boron in that absorbs neutrons and makes power go down. Same thing with control rods. They absorb neutrons. So if you drive control rods into the core, they absorb neutrons and take away from that neutron population and power starts going down. Another thing is with temperature and we control that with steam flow. So we always say steam flow equals power level essentially. So with our main turbine control system, if we ramp down the turbine, that slows the steam flow and also lowers power.
Bret Kugelmass [00:23:27] And how much load following are you guys able to do, allowed to do or is a utility interested in that or...?
Heather Hoff [00:23:36] We did a study on it. You know, with all this talk of all the solar in California and how do we accommodate that, you know, really high supply during the day when solar is available... And we did some studies, and we definitely could do more than we do right now. Right now, we're just 100% full power pretty continuously. And some other plants in the east, Byron and Illinois specifically, they have a different market system for their electricity. And they started doing a lot more load following just because of electricity prices. So, they actually had a timer like a little control system... Not a control system, a laptop in their control room that told them, you know, like prices are starting to go negative. So they would ramp down the plant to put less power on the grid during those times. And they worked out a system that was pretty flexible and seemed to, you know, support their utility in terms of pricing. So that was great. We could do that and we just don't really need to.
Bret Kugelmass [00:24:39] Do you have to ask the regulator if you want to like do a load follow maneuver or something or like are there certain like percentages that you're always allowed to do? And then...
Heather Hoff [00:24:47] Yes, yeah, yeah. There's, you know, the plant design is designed to handle a certain amount. We start getting into, I guess, more complex regulatory issues if you talk about operating at reduced power for significant periods of time. And so that's had a little bit of input into what happened at San Onofre and why they ended up shutting down instead of continuing to operate, you know, at a reduced power level.
Bret Kugelmass [00:25:14] So yeah, can you tell us the San Onofre... and then we'll lead that into, we'll go straight from there into the Diablo like drama.
Heather Hoff [00:25:24] Oh, my gosh. I feel like we need like 10 hours to do this podcast, Bret.
Bret Kugelmass [00:25:28] Let me check my calendar because I would spend 10 hours with you if I could.
Heather Hoff [00:25:33] Yeah, well, San Onofre... It's just a shame because it was a great plant, too, and they definitely could have kept running it. They could have, you know, actually replaced their steam generators again. And I think it would have been totally worth it. And there were some, from what I know, some backdoor dealings and political pressure that really drove the shutdown. So, I mean, I've come to a little bit more of extreme opinions on when to keep operating nuclear since I've been doing this, and I pretty much think like all the time, there's no reason to ever shut down nuclear. No matter what happens, we should fix it and it's going to be worth it.
Bret Kugelmass [00:26:06] Couldn't agree more. Couldn't agree more.
Heather Hoff [00:26:08] Yeah. So it's definitely a shame what happened at San Onofre.
Bret Kugelmass [00:26:12] And what was the issue that they cited, the steam generator issue. What was that issue?
Heather Hoff [00:26:16] They did a project that lots of other plants have done as well to replace their steam generators. And as part of that design process, the contractor who designed the steam generators didn't account for a certain like flow vibration... Flow induced vibrations in the steam generator tubes, which is like the most fragile part of this big heat exchanger, you know, that basically keeps the primary system with the reactor core and the pressurized coolant separate from the secondary system that makes steam for the turbine. So those, you know, combine and transfer the heat from the reactor into the secondary system. So there was all this, you know, turbulence in there and these flow induced vibrations started causing some cracking.
Bret Kugelmass [00:27:01] But then what were their options at that point? To replace the steam generator or not replace it and shut down the plant?
Heather Hoff [00:27:06] Replace them or operate at a lower power level where that flow turbulence is, you know, a different frequency...
Bret Kugelmass [00:27:17] Why couldn't they have just shoved some sort of like, you know, flow... Something. Just break up the flow a little bit.
Heather Hoff [00:27:20] A repair. Something.
Bret Kugelmass [00:27:20] Or something, I don't know, just break up the flow a little bit.
Heather Hoff [00:27:22] Anything. Anything they could have done would have been better than shutting it down.
Bret Kugelmass [00:27:26] Yeah, but okay. So what you're saying is it wasn't really a technical issue at the end of the day. At the end of the day, it was a political issue because the technical... There were a multitude of technical solutions.
Heather Hoff [00:27:34] Yeah. And then it's interesting, you know, how the outfall from that influenced what happened at Diablo Canyon.
Bret Kugelmass [00:27:41] Okay, so what happened at Diablo? When was the first sign that it wasn't going to go on forever?
Heather Hoff [00:27:47] Yeah. Well, so when San Onofre shut down, it was quick and, you know, immediate. They had this issue, they shut down the plants and they didn't really start up again. So all of a sudden, California is missing 8% of its electricity and that came immediately from natural gas. So all of a sudden there's all this natural gas demand. At the same time, we had a gas storage field in Southern California that had this horrible leakage problem and leaked all this methane into the environment. And it was a huge environmental catastrophe. And so California politicians saw this and they're like, "Well, you know, what if something happens with Diablo Canyon... We've got to plan for it and be more prepared in case anything happens." And it was just like this leave of like, "Of course something's going to happen because it's another nuclear plant."
Bret Kugelmass [00:28:38] Wow, okay. So there's... This is the whole thing where the nuclear industry does not do its communication well, because when the gas industry causes an extreme catastrophe, they're somehow able to convince the politicians we need more gas and less alternative energy sources.
Heather Hoff [00:28:49] Yeah, yeah. It's been a mess, honestly. And yes, we first... Kristin and I first started hearing rumors of, you know, like, "We're not going to relicense Diablo Canyon," back in 2015.
Bret Kugelmass [00:29:01] And when was the license like up for renewal? What year was that supposed to happen?
Heather Hoff [00:29:07] Well, it's in 2025... is our NRC licenses. So everyone on site had always just assumed... Like we were already almost done with our relicensing process. Like I said, my company has been always like really on top of staying ahead of the game in terms of Diablo Canyon, in terms of plant upgrades, in terms of policy, in terms of anything regulatory, they're just like out there and getting it. And I was so proud of that. And so in 2015, we started hearing these rumors that we might not relicense, and that's when Kristin and I kind of met up and decided to start Mothers for Nuclear to try and communicate about nuclear differently.
Bret Kugelmass [00:29:43] And she also works at Diablo? She's another operator?
Heather Hoff [00:29:46] Yeah, she's an engineer. She's a civil engineer. So she's done, you know, concrete inspections on the containment domes. There's a really great picture of her... Picture of her rappelling down the side of the containment structure, you know, looking for cracks. And she also worked a lot on our seismic analysis. And right now, she's an engineering manager for our design engineering group.
Bret Kugelmass [00:30:06] Okay. So you heard that they weren't going to go for license extension in 2025. And then you teamed up to say, "Hey, let's advocate for getting the license extended?"
Heather Hoff [00:30:16] Yeah, basically because we realized that it wasn't a technical issue like Diablo Canyon is such an amazing plant and can obviously keep running for so much longer. We're like, "Why are we making this decision?" And we realized that it was all political. And then we realized that the politics are just a result of public perception and, you know, politicians trying to do what's popular. And so we're like, what can we do? Oh, you know, like we're environmentalist, liberal moms, kind of hippies, like pretty different than most people in our industry. And we have a special story to tell about how we changed our minds, how we were so skeptical. And maybe we can connect with people who are also skeptical, who, you know, mothers and women who don't have time to go work at a nuclear plant and ask a billion questions, you know, before figuring out what the true story is and that it's actually a great thing. And yeah, so we decided to to try and start influencing public perception, you know, like at the base level and that that would eventually trickle up to our politicians and our policy and that would eventually, you know, support continued operation of the plant. So I'd say, "Yes! Success."
Bret Kugelmass [00:31:25] Well, I want to... There's still more to tell about the saga, all the ups and downs of it. But before we do that, can you maybe just reflect a little bit on... What... You two are unique in the sense that like you really got up and fought for what you believed in, even at a risk to your reputation, to just like your lifestyle. You know, you got to put yourself out there.
Heather Hoff [00:31:52] It's been hard on our families.
Bret Kugelmass [00:31:53] Yeah, exactly. Open yourselves up to public criticism. That's really rough. And then, of course, like, maybe even, like, in the back of your mind, you're like, "Oh, my God, I could actually lose my job over this because, like, I'm going against the bosses." So, I understand that is difficult. Yet you did it. But that being said, I am shocked at how few of you there are, given how many plants across this country have been shutting down. They each have, I don't know what, 600, 800 workers. Like, why aren't we seeing more of you across the country? Like the workers, like fighting for the plants?
Heather Hoff [00:32:33] Oh, gosh. That's the best question ever that I don't have an answer to because I don't understand it totally either. But I will say that there is so much history in nuclear. And you asked me the history of Diablo Canyon. We didn't really get into it. But there's so much anti-nuclear influence and I think our industry has responded historically by kind of like duck and cover and like, "We're just going to keep doing what we're doing quietly under the radar. We're not going to attract attention. We're just going to keep making all this clean power and and not try and, you know, like, stir up any trouble." We're just going to... It's been very... They're very cautious and conservative in terms of their communications because they don't want attention and they know that...
Bret Kugelmass [00:33:18] Yeah, but the reaction of a normal... Like your average person to that is that they're hiding something. Because like every other industry gets up and fights... Like the cigarette... I mean look at the all these terrible industries that get what they want. Like the cigarette industry gets up and fights, like the chemical industry, the fabric industry, like all get up and fight. And then people...
Heather Hoff [00:33:37] It's so bad because those are actually damaging and nuclear is actually the best. Like it deserves to be fought for.
Bret Kugelmass [00:33:43] This is so ironic.
Heather Hoff [00:33:45] Yeah, it's backwards. It's definitely like our whole strategy in the industry. I don't know if it was even really like a conscious strategy or more of like a survival...
Bret Kugelmass [00:33:52] I don't think it was. Yeah, yeah. I don't think it was. I think it was just like incentives that we can't fully understand or map out our process. Like a confluence of incentives. Actually, I haven't seen any like individual evil actors in the nuclear industry. I'm one of the biggest critics of like how the nuclear industry conducts itself given my exposure to it. But all the individual people I think are amazing. Like I'm constantly in awe and enamored.
Heather Hoff [00:34:19] And for a long time we didn't know that nuclear needed saving, you know, like, we were fine and we didn't know that we needed to speak out...
Bret Kugelmass [00:34:24] A victim of its own success in many ways.
Heather Hoff [00:34:25] And defend it. And I remember thinking, we have another local advocacy group here called the Californians for Green Nuclear Power. And they started, I think, in 2014 or 2012, like before us, way before us. And I was like, I'm so glad they're out there doing this because like, I don't want to do that, so I don't have to. And that's great. And I don't know if we really need them or not, but that's great, you know. And yeah, so I think a lot of employees, just like we're still kind of gearing up to the idea that, yeah, our jobs and our industry and this technology is under threat because of public perception and lots of people just don't really know what to do with that. And that's something that, you know, is influenced by that history. But, you know, I wouldn't say that there's not people like me out there. I think they're out there. We just... We're still like gathering our troops and gearing up. And the growth that we've seen in our pro-nuclear, you know, advocacy community over the last six years has been amazing and so encouraging. And there's so many other groups now that are attacking this from every angle. And I think every voice is important in this discussion. And, you know, no matter how extreme, if it's you know, I don't know if you've heard about the nuclear bros. There have been a few, you know, journalists contacting us about doing articles on nuclear bros that are like really all nuclear all the time. And that's it. Nothing else.
Bret Kugelmass [00:35:51] It's funny because I think that term is used like disparagingly, but I don't think it should be.
Heather Hoff [00:35:57] A little bit. Yeah, some of the best nuclear bros are women and we just own it.
Bret Kugelmass [00:36:02] Oh, I love that you just said... I love that you just said that, by the way, because... Oh, man, that's so cool that you said that becaus when I had heard that term before, I thought the attack was like some portion of society trying to use the gender wedge to like turn women in general against nuclear by calling the people who like nuclear bros.
Heather Hoff [00:36:30] Of course, yeah. Yeah.
Bret Kugelmass [00:36:33] The fact that you just owned that totally flipped the whole thing.
Heather Hoff [00:36:35] Yeah, well, yeah. There's so much subtlety and stuff going on with how media portrays all of us and all the different voices in our movement. And, you know, as a Mother for Nuclear, I picture myself as being kind of like the peacekeeper and mediator between all of us and helping everyone to feel welcome in this movement. Because we really do need just every voice, no matter how extreme, no matter how meek or mild or what you really care about. Nuclear is the right answer for so many reasons. And I think all those people, no matter how they talk about nuclear, they're going to reach their audience of people that agree with them. And I think that's important.
Bret Kugelmass [00:37:16] Yeah. Can you walk me through like the major chapters or milestones or turning points of the Diablo fight? I know we could probably spend hours going through all the details, but at least walk me through the basic timeline. So, they announced... in 2015 they announced they weren't going to seek license re-extension. You get together and start advocating. What are the next key milestones along the saga?
Heather Hoff [00:37:40] Yeah. So 2015 was actually just rumors. We didn't know what was going to happen yet. So we're like trying to gear up to prevent our, our company from, you know, like making an announcement that we can't go back on. We wanted to prevent, you know, like a shutdown right now. We didn't know what was going to happen. And so we're like, "We have to do something right now." So we geared up and we started Motherfer Nuclear on Earth Day in 2016 and then planned for the March for Environmental Hope, a big pro-nuclear march in Northern California. And right before that, our company made the official announcement that, "Yeah, we're going to shut down the plant at the end of our licenses and not, you know, not relicense." So that like deflated our whole plans for this march that we were going to do. And, you know, before that, we had had a whole bunch of employees and other people who were on board. And then after that announcement came out, they're like, "Well, the decision's made, you know, there's nothing we can do now." And that's exactly what we were worried about. But we still had the march. We had a whole bunch of other people come in from other areas, other plant workers and people from around California that weren't in the nuclear industry, that just supported nuclear for its environmental benefits. And so we still had the march. We ended up at the State Lands Commission meeting in Sacramento in June of 2016 and like it was kind of like our big first launch of like, "Here we are, we're Mothers for Nuclear and we're advocating for this, you know, for environmental reasons and health reasons." And then, of course, they still made the decision to go ahead and continue with the plans to shut down the plant and decommission on 2025.
Bret Kugelmass [00:39:20] And why did the state have anything to do with this? Maybe I'm a little confused about that. How is it not like a private matter?
Heather Hoff [00:39:25] Well. Again, there was a lot of, you know, like kind of backdoor talkings about what to do with Diablo Canyon in between, I think our company and officials in the state and different regulatory agencies. And what basically happened is they found this way to kind of force PGE, my company, to agree to not relicense because these other permits were going to expire. And so the state agency said, "Well, we're not going to extend your permits unless you promise to not relicense." So it was like a tit for tat kind of...
Bret Kugelmass [00:39:57] Yeah. Because there's so many ways... When someone wants to do something, there's so many ways to attack it from the side.
Heather Hoff [00:40:03] Yeah. I mean, I definitely think that we could have totally ignored the threat and we could have, you know, paid fees or whatever, like penalties for not having this permit. And we could have just been like, "We don't care, we're going to keep operating." But I think at the time, you know, my company was in a fragile position and they kind of just wanted to get out of nuclear, too. And so they went along with it.
Bret Kugelmass [00:40:24] That's the other problem. The companies that own nuclear typically own others for them too. Yeah. And so they're... It's not like the top management, which often you need for these monumental decisions, are incentivized to fight for nuclear.
Heather Hoff [00:40:38] Sure. So, we're trying to change that going forward and, you know, try and set things up so this doesn't have an opportunity to happen again. But yeah. So our company was, you know, headed hard down this path of decommissioning, preparing for decommissioning. And we hired a whole organization of people to start planning and start, you know, rearranging our finances.
Bret Kugelmass [00:41:03] And that's the other vicious thing. Like part of the nuclear industry itself benefits from shutting down plants because it's a revenue stream towards decommissioning analysis. And accessing the decommissioning fund, it's like... And then the other problem with that is these people are treated as the nuclear industry in the same way that people who produce clean energy are treated part of the nuclear industry, but in the public sphere. So like people might say, "Oh, here's a nuclear expert." Yeah, but that's a nuclear expert who is incentivized financially to shut down plants. Like?
Heather Hoff [00:41:35] It's so messed up. Yeah.
Bret Kugelmass [00:41:38] Okay. So then... you tried your first stab at convincing people, didn't work. Then what were some of the next shots?
Heather Hoff [00:41:45] Yeah, well, so then it was just like it seemed pretty bleak in California. And we're like, our company is just, like, full bore, not open to any kind of like, "Oh, well, if the state changed their mind, of course would support 'em." Like, "No, we're decommissioning." Like there was no question.
Bret Kugelmass [00:42:03] Wow. Hello, Germany.
Heather Hoff [00:42:05] We're kind of like, "Okay, yeah, what do we do with that?" We didn't really know what to do. So Kristin and I just focused on building up Mothers for Nuclear. Expanding, you know, our reach and our voice, trying to reach more people and grow the organization. And, you know, we're both engineers. Neither one of us are communicators or like used to doing public outreach. We're not organizers. And so we're like, "We have to learn all this stuff. We have to learn how to write. We have to learn how to do our own website." And so we're flailing around, you know, just for a few years, you know, just trying to grow our organization and develop a lot of our talking points, how we want to talk about nuclear differently. And it really started to shift in 2019. In California, when...
Bret Kugelmass [00:42:50] By the way, can you just tell me... The selection of Mothers for Nuclear, which I just think that branding is just so genius... Was there like a debate over the name? Or like how did you decide? You could have named your organization anything, but I think it was just so clever to do it that way. What was... How did that come about?
Heather Hoff [00:43:07] Yeah, we talked about it, you know, beat around the bush for a long time in terms of our name. Maybe we should be Mothers for Sustainability. Maybe we should be, you know, Mothers for Clean Energy, because that's what we really care about are those things. And yeah, and we started originally organizing under the name Save Diablo when we had a lot of our coworkers were on board and we wanted to save the plant and eventually kind of settled on more of a, "How do we best reach the public in a way that's grabbing their attention and making people think about nuclear in a different way?" And the "mothers" term, you know, like people hear that and they're like, "Wait for nuclear? You're for..?" Like I've heard, you know, Mothers Against This, Mothers Against That. There's all these things that mothers are against. But Mothers For... And it's nuclear energy... Like that, it's just so surprising that it grabs their attention and... When we decided to actually be for nuclear and not for clean energy or some other thing, we're like, "We can't... We can't, like hide this at all. It's got to be totally obvious what we're advocating for and why. And this is different." There's plenty of other groups of moms who are climate moms or, you know, mothers out front, clean air moms, all of those, which are great. And I'm like in all those groups also, but there's no other mothers for nuclear. And so this is a special thing that we have to do. And we just kind of decided like, "Yes, this is what we have to do.
Bret Kugelmass [00:44:39] Oh, God it's just so genius. It's just like so economical with the words. And like you were saying, you don't shy away from saying nuclear. I think that's a big mistake that people make. For. Like, okay. It's like there's no... There's no like confusion of... It's like because you could have also had Nuclear Moms and maybe people might have thought, "Okay, anti-nuclear side." Okay, so like you're clarifying this is unequivocally positive and then "mothers," which is like not only humanizing, but it is also... Not only is it humanizing, it's also surprising and then it also plays upon something that is in society since like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the fact that mothers can band together to do that. So like people are familiar. So it's just so perfect. It's just so perfect.
Heather Hoff [00:45:21] We care about the future.
Bret Kugelmass [00:45:24] Okay, take me through a couple more of the milestones. Let's get to the point... Like was there... What was your darkest day in your fight for Diablo?
Heather Hoff [00:45:32] Oh, gosh. There's so many. It's just, it's up and down all the time. I wouldn't say that there's the not dark days even now, because we're like, "Well, we have this five year extension, but it needs to be 20 years and what are we going to do about that?"
Bret Kugelmass [00:45:44] Okay, so what's up with that? So, tell us the history. When was there a shining light?
[00:45:48] We're all over the place!
Bret Kugelmass [00:45:50] No, no, it's okay. What was the shining light where you realized the politics might have swung around? And then, like, yeah, what led up to it and then what happened?
Heather Hoff [00:45:59] Yeah, well, so in 2019, I'm starting to get this feeling that California energy is a bit of a mess. I'm learning more and more about it. You know, I'm just like, "This is a disaster." And now it's getting to the point where it's been, you know, three years since the announcement. We've made very little progress on clean energy. We're still 50% natural gas. We still have all these imports. And then 2020 came and it's like, "Oh, there's going to be blackouts." And, you know, our previous governor, Gray Davis, was ousted from office because of blackouts. And so here's Gavin Newsom. He's the one that kind of initiated this deal about the permits expiring and the State Lands Commission holding that over the company's head. And he was the Lieutenant Governor at the time and the head of the State Lands Commission. So it was kind of him using it as a political chip, like, "I'm going to shut down this nuclear plant and I'm going to gain all this popularity from it." So all of a sudden I'm like, "Well, it's going to look pretty bad for him if California's having blackouts, you know, like this is not going well for other governors." And so I just... We started pushing more and more. We geared up a whole bunch of our, you know, connections that we may have made over the last three years and all these other pro-nuclear groups that have been, you know, just forming and coming out of the woodwork. Stand Up for Nuclear with Paris Ortiz-Wines and Eric Meyer runs Generation Atomic and like all of them have been around for a while, but we're all like, "We can gear up and we can do something about this, so let's team up." And we started having our weekly Save Diablo Canyon meetings. Again, I'm kind of pushing these other groups because I'm a full time working mom and I'm like, "You guys, this is your job." You know, "You need like, let's start doing this now. Like, now's the time. Now is when it's obvious that we need Diablo Canyon and we need to start really pushing this messaging." And then Isabelle Boemeke came on the scene, you know, she wants to help save Diablo. And so we're just like... We're feeling this huge confluence of "it's the right time to really make the case." And she helped us plan the rally to save clean energy. She did most of it actually herself. We're just like consultants. And I think that was hugely impactful. And then, you know, like more and more groups are just getting on board and helping support the case that, "Yes, we need Diablo Canyon." And, you know, there was a great, great report that came out from MIT and Stanford. And, you know, those kind of academic reports are really important in terms of influencing public policy and people that are making decisions. And so like a whole bunch of stuff started happening and then I guess... I think it was April of this year and you know that Gavin put out a statement to a newspaper like, "I think we need to change course on Diablo Canyon." And we're just like, "Oh, my gosh!"
Bret Kugelmass [00:48:48] Who changed his mind? Do we know how like... How he was influenced? Because like if he was one of the main things holding it back, how did he... How did we flip him?
Heather Hoff [00:48:58] I think it's a combination of things. And I don't know if you can ever really tell, you know, with politicians how many forces they have influencing them.
Bret Kugelmass [00:49:06] Okay, so we didn't like get a hold of like one of his like trusted advisers and like sit him down at a coffee table and say, "You got to listen to us!" Like... Or did something like that happen?
Heather Hoff [00:49:16] A few. Yeah. Every angle. Yes.
Bret Kugelmass [00:49:19] But the reason I'm asking is because like... Okay, just like we have to share best practices across operating a nuclear plant, we have to share best practices across saving a nuclear plant. So I'm like curious to know, like let's just say... Okay, you don't know the answer, but from your perspective, your gut feeling, like what tactics really work?
Heather Hoff [00:49:45] Um...
Bret Kugelmass [00:49:47] Yeah. We'll come back to it, we'll come back to it.
Heather Hoff [00:49:48] I don't know. It's just... I'd like to hope that everything we've done with Mothers for Nuclear, we've demonstrated public support in a different way. And I think that makes it safer for politicians to make this move.
Bret Kugelmass [00:50:01] Oh, 100%. 100%. Like a politician... Unless a politician sees citizenry supporting something, even if it's only one or two, they need some indication. Otherwise, like they cannot be influenced just by money or economics or their like... There is a very... If you don't become a politician without get like getting the pulse of the people a little bit. And you and everyone else who is involved rep... Like, okay, so it's like, you know how sometimes you hear like these few loud negative voices and it scares a lot of people? Like a few loud positive voices is also like representative of a broader movement. I think politicians realize that and need that in order to like, make hard decisions, they need to at least be able to have heard like there are mothers out there that are campaigning for this.
Heather Hoff [00:50:49] I think that's the answer, Bret, honestly. And it's been... You know, like historically there's been this huge amount of antinuclear voices in California. They're large and powerful and environmental groups, you know, like they're all very forceful and powerful. And the media would always go to them whenever, you know, any kind of news came out. So they'd have this very unbalanced perspective on nuclear. But now there's a group like us, and they can come to Mothers, they can come to other pro-nuclear groups, and there's this whole other side building up the balance in the conversation. So yeah, I just, I hope that we've made it safer for them to make this move. I think that had a lot to do with it. But yeah, behind the scenes, a lot of our members and partners were also reaching out to Gavin's funders. And Gavin's like... Anyone that we could think of, you know, like we're messaging Lieutenant Governors, were messaging his wife, and just like maybe not ever hearing responses...
Bret Kugelmass [00:51:46] Cool, yeah. That's what I want to hear. I want to hear the tactics.
Heather Hoff [00:51:50] Yeah. No, we we never hear back from them, but we're just like, "We're going to keep throwing this out there so that they know that there's another side to this issue."
Bret Kugelmass [00:52:00] So cool. You absolutely have to do that. I feel like people get discouraged when they don't hear back. But like it take someone like that's like truly brave to just keep pushing. And I get it... for all those out there listening...
Heather Hoff [00:52:10] They're listening. Yeah. They're hearing us.
Bret Kugelmass [00:52:10] Just for all those out there who like give up after they don't hear back... Like like these things stick in people's... Like they probably open their email even if they didn't want to write back and then like, I don't know, six months later at a dinner party, somebody brings up, "Oh, what about nuclear?" And all of a sudden, Gavin's wife is like, "Oh, I think we should have it."
Heather Hoff [00:52:27] Yeah, exactly. Every angle.
Bret Kugelmass [00:52:32] So cool. All right. And then so what was the official announcement like? When was the like winning moment?
Heather Hoff [00:52:38] Gosh, we still... That's why I said like we still don't have necessarily a winning moment. Our company is still like, "Oh, we're doing both paths. We're doing decommissioning and relicensing." Totally ridiculous, but also neccessary maybe.
Bret Kugelmass [00:52:49] Yeah. So break that out for me.... What's that... Where is it written down that it's five years? What's that about?
Heather Hoff [00:52:59] So...
Bret Kugelmass [00:53:00] And five years from when to when?
Heather Hoff [00:53:02] Yeah. Okay. Where to start... Yeah. So over the last couple of years, you know, like I've been trying to get more media attention for this potential, this possibility, trying to get people to talk about "we need this." And a lot of reporters are like, "Well, how would that even happen?" Like, it's illegal or it's impossible or like, it's so far... Like, tell me all the ways that you think it could happen. I'm like, "Well, I don't know. Gavin would just have to decide to change his mind, and we don't really know how it would happen." But, you know, we can do hard things and we just like have to kind of have faith that yeah, we can figure out a way to turn this around. It can't be that hard...
Bret Kugelmass [00:53:44] If we can split an atom, we can certainly sign a permit.
Heather Hoff [00:53:46] Yeah, yes. And yeah. So it appears that, you know, Gavin's changed his mind, at least on a temporary extension, and it went to our state legislature and, you know, the form of a whole bunch of legislation to help the company be able to actually accomplish this relicensing and continued operation and getting, you know, all the different bodies on board that have to extend permits or, you know, like approve continued operation. And so it's basically a whole bunch of state agencies kind of gearing up and figuring out, "Okay, how do we turn this boat around? And there's a lot of people working to make that happen right now, including people in PGE, in the company. It's really great.
Bret Kugelmass [00:54:26] But maybe let me ask a little bit more specifically, this five year thing... That's a five year extension on like the permit that was going to be used as a tool to shut it down, essentially?
Heather Hoff [00:54:36] No. So, that permit was a land use permit that was actually going to expire in 2018. And so that's why the 2016 timeframe was a little bit more urgent. They're like, "Oh, this permit's going to expire in 2018 and the state's going to force us to shut down then unless we make this agreement with them that we're not going to relicense in 2025.
Bret Kugelmass [00:54:59] I see, I see. Okay.
Heather Hoff [00:55:00] So yeah, there's a little complexity there. And it's funny because that permit that was going to expire in 2018, there's, you know, a whole bunch of permits that we need to run the plants. And those are generally designed to cover the life of the plant, which was originally, you know, 40 years. It's aligns with our Nuclear Regulatory Commission operating license. And at the beginning of a, you know, planned operation at Diablo Canyon, there were some delays due to construction. You know, drawings getting mixed up and various other things, you know, like seismic issues and like it took longer to start actually running the plant than they had planned. And this one permit, they forgot to shift it to match the new operating cycle. So that's why it was going to expire earlier. Yeah. So it's just like it's this technicality, you know, and it's just like they were able to politically leverage that...
Bret Kugelmass [00:55:57] So then... Sorry, but let's just come back to the five year thing. Like what is... Yeah, what is the status right now of when the intended operation goes till what date exactly?
Heather Hoff [00:56:06] Yeah. Well, so...
Bret Kugelmass [00:56:08] Under scenario A, I know there's still scenario B.
Heather Hoff [00:56:11] Yeah. Well so, you know, I had heard that we were going to try and pursue ten years, which is a little more reasonable than five years. Five years is pretty short and pretty quick. Like if we're going to go through all this effort to turn this around, you know, five years is like smaller return for all that effort. So I had heard ten years and then I think some stuff happened with our state legislature and certain senators that really, you know, were feeling like to do, I don't know, due diligence for their constituents. They had to push back really hard and like limit it even more from ten years to five years. So I feel like there's a few key players in the state legislature that shortened that from ten years to five years. And that's pretty disappointing...
Bret Kugelmass [00:57:00] Is this five years after the NRC relicensing or is this five years like starting now?
Heather Hoff [00:57:04] So what we have to do before 2025 is we have to restart that NRC relicensing process and we have to get all this other permits in line to support operation from 2025 to 2030.
Bret Kugelmass [00:57:17] Okay, so that's the five year block.
Heather Hoff [00:57:18] That's the five year period. Yeah. The NRC operating license is for 20 years. That's how they do it. So we'll get that license and it'll be for 20 years. But the state legislation is going to say, you know, like we're only going to run the plant for five more years and...
Bret Kugelmass [00:57:33] And is it possible that even if the state approves this extra five years, the company makes like an economical decision that it's too expensive to go through the NRC relicensing process via whatever and just not apply?
Heather Hoff [00:57:52] Yeah, I think that's always possible. Yeah. The company is concerned with their finances and they're, you know, in a mess because of wildfires and just coming out of bankruptcy. And our CEO announcing all these plans to underground all these wires and it's just like... It's a scramble and the whole company... All of that's outside of Diablo Canyon. So now here's this other complication. They were just like, "We're not looking at Diablo like we're not... We don't have to worry about it. We're just going to like deal with all this other stuff." And then all of a sudden, here comes the Diablo issue again. And I'm sure there are... They have mixed feelings about it. I mean, I don't want to speak for them at all, but it's just it's going to be a lot of work for them. And I think it has been made clear, you know, from various angles that the federal government and the state governments really support continued operation of the plant. And so as long as they keep getting those signals, I think they'll continue down this path, which I think is the right path, you know. And yeah, we were awarded a grant from the Federal Government to help with some of the financing and from the state, you know, so like everyone's working together to make this happen.
Bret Kugelmass [00:58:59] And then when it comes to the NRC licensing, because I have to say it really scared me when the already issued license for Turkey Point was rescinded.
Heather Hoff [00:59:09] Yes.
Bret Kugelmass [00:59:10] What... Were there any like dates missed or something that are going to make it very difficult or create like another political tool within the NRC to like not grant the license, like what's going on with like the logistics of NRC relicensing?
Heather Hoff [00:59:27] Yeah, I don't think there's going to be any hold ups in the NRC. I don't think that's going to be a barrier. You know, like I mentioned before, we were almost already done with the relicensing process like back in 2014. We were so close and you know, our previous plant management that, you know, kind of has been advising us and helping us along this path, they've told me, you know, like, "Oh, we only needed, you know, $30 million or 300. It's not very much to finish the whole relicensing process. Like we were at that close, we were 99% done. So, you know, there's various timelines that the NRC recommends in terms of going for relicensing. And I think we're kind of close to some of those timelines. But there's always a process for, you know, doing exceptions. And I think, you know, they recognize the challenges to the situation. So, yeah, I just I don't foresee any challenges there. I think it's more at the state level in terms of getting people on board, you know.
Bret Kugelmass [01:00:28] And do you have any... And I've got an idea I want to share with you as well, but do you have any idea what did happen with Turkey Point and what was the story? Because I still haven't like really...
Heather Hoff [01:00:37] I don't totally know other than that's a second relicensing process. So that's the first relicensing, you know, would extend a plant operation from 40 years... 20 more years to 60 years. And so Turkey Point is going for a second relicensing, which would go from 60 years to 80 years. And there were some, I guess, questions brought up. I don't know if was as a result of, you know, public pushback in terms of the environmental reviews for the second relicensing period and how detailed those have have to be.
Bret Kugelmass [01:01:17] Yeah, it's like I don't even know why we're like, why it's even a question. Like, I don't understand why these buildings aren't forever buildings. I mean, for God's sakes, like, the Empire State Building has been up there for 100 years. It was built in like 1920 or something. So in 1920, you... Like buildings can hang around - much bigger buildings, but really they have even more people in them...
Heather Hoff [01:01:37] Much less robust. Yeah, for sure.
Bret Kugelmass [01:01:38] Like, so why isn't a nuclear plant a forever plant and you just replace things every now and then? Like, what is this all like... You know what I'm saying?
Heather Hoff [01:01:46] Yeah, no, I totally agree with that. And they're built in a very robust fashion. And I just think that it's all the nuclear thing. Like we have to do everything above and beyond and we have to have, you know, maintenance that's pretty crazy. And I just want to say sometimes like, whatever. If something breaks, we'll fix it. Like, it's not a big deal. Exactly. I like your sentiment and I really agree with that. I just think it's... There's a lot of, you know, public perception issues and a lot of regulatory history. And it just kind of all feeds into this way over doing what we actually need to do to make the plant safe, you know? Yeah.
Bret Kugelmass [01:02:19] Okay, so here's my idea. And and you tell me if this has been floated before...
Heather Hoff [01:02:23] Okay.
Bret Kugelmass [01:02:26] But like, why doesn't... Why don't we just declare the plot of land that it sits on like a federal parkland... Something to take it out of the state's jurisdiction and just move it to the federal jurisdiction. Yeah, I think like the state would probably want that too because like it does provide like 8% of the power. Right. And so I think the politicians who were even pooh poohing it, really do want it there for their people. They just want to also say that... so this would give them an out. They could be like, "Well, we fought to shut it down." But like secretly, like, "Oh, thank God, we're not having blackouts." You know what I'm saying?
Heather Hoff [01:02:58] Yeah, it's a great idea. And I love that you're floating this idea. And yeah, we've gone around, you know, like so many crazy ideas that were like, how could we actually do this? And one of the most recent examples of that was with Ryan Pickering and Scott Lathrop. And Scott is the President of our local Waititi Chumash tribe. And they're the, you know, previous residents of the land around Diablo Canyon. And we were thinking, yeah, that would be so great if we give the land back to the Chumash and have them run the plants and then it's like outside of the state. It's totally, you know, like...
Bret Kugelmass [01:03:33] That is such a creative idea.
Heather Hoff [01:03:35] Yeah. We'll rename the plant, you know...
Bret Kugelmass [01:03:43] Yeah, that is cool.
Heather Hoff [01:03:44] Yeah. So there's lots of ideas floating around about how to actually make this a reality and how to have it be the best outcome for all the groups involved. And I think it's really important to keep talking to all the groups.
Bret Kugelmass [01:03:56] Yeah. What about like forcing a divestiture from PGE to just some like upstart utility or something?
Heather Hoff [01:04:01] Yeah, we tried to get people to buy it, you know, and like we try to start, you know, nuclear power purchase agreements. And that's pretty complicated. In California, there's a company in Sweden that does it, that's pretty cool. It's just like, "You want to buy nuclear electricity? Come to us." You know, I think that's great. And like, something like that could really demonstrate the value of Diablo Canyon to the state more. And yeah, so I'm glad that we had so many different people pushing this issue, this challenge from so many different angles that, you know, I just I kind of... I don't know how much confidence I had, but, like, there's there's got to be a way to do it, to make this a better situation. And yeah, there's a lot of great ideas out there. Yeah.
Bret Kugelmass [01:04:47] Yeah. Okay, cool. So what's what's next? Like, you know, we're running a little low on time, but I would love for you to have, like, you know, be able to, you know, share any other stories or take this conversation any other directions before...
Heather Hoff [01:05:00] What next? Yeah, we have to definitely get from five years to 20 years on continued operation. And we feel like our whole group of nuclear advocates feels like it's a really great time to push for nuclear generally in California, not just Diablo Canyon. So we're like, "Oh, well, next, you know, we have to get to the 20 years and we have to also repeal our nuclear moratorium. How are we going to do that?" And then just last week, we heard an announcement that a group of legislators introduced this package that includes repealing our nuclear moratorium. They just struck out all the language. You can go look at it. It's all like red and lined out and it's just like paragraphs...
Bret Kugelmass [01:05:38] So where's the nuclear moratorium? California has one?
Heather Hoff [01:05:41] Yes. Yeah, lots of states do. So we need to build new nuclear in our state. And that's the first step in terms of letting, you know, other companies come in and develop plans to build more nuclear here. So I think that's super exciting. And I was like, "Oh, my gosh, how did this just happen?" Is it's another one of those things that people have been telling me, "Oh, it's so hard, you know, you're never going to get it because of this, this and this and all these barriers." Yeah, so that's great news and I guess a really cool story about the five years and 20 years... I was leaving work... It was a number of weeks ago, but I was just talking to a coworker about, you know, like, "Oh, well, we got five more years." And I was like, "We're going to do 20 more years." And nuclear power plants have a lot of concrete. And so when I said this, like, I get pretty excited and I start raising my voice. And so I'm like "20 more years!" And it's like "20 more years, 20 more years..." It's echoing off all this concrete and the power plant. And I was like, "Wow, that was great." But then I heard a whole bunch of other people like other employees in this area of the plant. "20 more years, 20 more years!" Like other people started doing it back too. And it was really great and encouraging and just...
Bret Kugelmass [01:06:59] I got the goosebumps, just hearing that, that's awesome. Almost like the building is shouting it also...
Heather Hoff [01:07:04] The power plant is like, "Yeah, we can do this."
Bret Kugelmass [01:07:07] Wow. That is so...
Heather Hoff [01:07:09] Yeah, it's really special.
Bret Kugelmass [01:07:09] Well, I don't think we can end on a better note than that. I literally do have the tingles. Heather Hoff, thank you so much for joining me. Honestly, I just have such like respect and reverence for you and the other groups that were involved and everything that you've done to fight, like it is hard to go against your boss, to go against people, to like put yourself out there like risk... It is so hard. And the fact that you're willing to stand up and do it, I just think like you are going to go down in the history books like when they tell the story of nuclear. So thank you so much.
Heather Hoff [01:07:38] Thank you so much for having me.