Isabelle Boemeke

Nuclear Influencer

Isodope

May 26, 2021

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Ep 312: Isabelle Boemeke - Nuclear Influencer, Isodope
00:00 / 01:04
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Bret Kugelmass
We are here today on Titans of Nuclear with Isabelle Boemeke, who is definitely the star influencer throughout the nuclear space, but also, over the last year, who I've grown to know is quite knowledgeable and just an amazing advocate and educator on the topic as well. Isabelle, welcome to the show.

Isabelle Boemeke
I'm so excited to be here. I did a lot of research for my content and I basically listened to every single episode of Titans of Nuclear. So, I'm happy to be here.

Bret Kugelmass
Oh my god. Well, then you know the format. We'd love to hear about your history. I also encourage people to listen to your episode with Chris on the Decouple podcast. I just think he's an awesome interviewer and I really enjoyed listening to that conversation between you guys as well. But let's do some of it over here. Tell us about your upbringing.

Isabelle Boemeke
I grew up in Brazil, but not in a big city in Brazil. I grew up in a very, very small town in the south of Brazil, which, most people, when they think of my country, they think of Rio and samba and beach and party. I am from a completely different part where it's just a bunch of farms, a lot of cattle and a lot of crops - and also a bunch of people speaking German randomly. That's where I grew up. Grew up religious, Catholic like most people in my country. Didn't really question much, because there is not a lot to question when that's all you know. When I was a little bit older, I moved to a bigger city and widened my perspective of the world a little bit, but still very much confined to the country that I was in. Brazil is not a very scientific country, I would say. Especially growing up in school, I remember not being encouraged to ask questions, to question what I was learning. So, when I was older, about 16 years old, I actually got discovered - this sounds so silly, even speaking about it in this terms - I got discovered to be a model when I was leaving my school. And that's when I finally saw the opportunity to leave Brazil and to get to know the world. That was a really exciting opportunity for me at the time.

Bret Kugelmass
How did you know how to handle that? If somebody comes up to you and says, Hey, I want you to be a model. Okay, that would never happen to me, but if it did, my initial reaction might be a little skeptical. Like, is this person going to kidnap me?

Isabelle Boemeke
Yes, it was definitely interesting, because I was living my school and this guy runs up to me and he has a camera guy behind him and he's holding up a microphone. He puts a microphone on my face and says, Are you a model? And I said, No. And he's like, Well, we're having this competition in your city tomorrow, would love if you could participate. And then after the cameras are off, he was telling me about all the opportunities I would have to travel the world and meet a bunch of different people and make money while doing it. And to be honest, I've always had a desire to leave Brazil. I don't know why. And I think now, actually, even though I was really young, I now see it as me looking at American movies, and recognizing that even the poor people in America had it pretty good compared to people in Brazil. Just seeing the the opportunities that people had here. I grew up seeing my mom, who, by the way, went to university and was had superior education, just struggling to find jobs and working all day long while studying at university at night. She just worked really, really hard, but we couldn't move forward economically. So, I think I was able to recognize that and that's what inspired me to leave and search for new opportunities.

Bret Kugelmass
So, where did it take you? You got to travel the world?

Isabelle Boemeke
It first took me to São Paulo, which is the biggest city in Brazil, it's not the capital, but it's the biggest city. Then I went to Argentina for a couple of months. I learned to speak Spanish there, had a great time. Then I came to the US. I first landed in Miami, which, imagine a 17 year old coming from Brazil and Argentina landing in Miami, looking at all the opportunities in the United States, but also the fun in Miami. It was definitely a great time, then I went to Europe for a while, traveled all around Europe, and came back to the US and just kind of moved between Miami, New York, and then finally Los Angeles.

Bret Kugelmass
Just to get a little bit better sense of what your life is like, when you're living in these different places, do you just have events that you go to on a weekly basis, on a daily basis? Do you get to just spend a lot of time with the people and experience the culture? Logistically, what does it look like?

Isabelle Boemeke
When I was really young, 18, 17 traveling around the world, the agency usually has model apartments, and they put all the models in the same spot. They're usually not glamorous at all. These are usually like two bedroom apartments and they put eight girls and terrible furniture. We're just going to castings every day, getting jobs here and there. The great thing - and the terrible thing - about modeling is that it really prepares you to hear "no" and keep going. Because every day you have a job interview and you're being told "no" more times than you're being told "yes".

Bret Kugelmass
Sounds like the life of an entrepreneur.

Isabelle Boemeke
Exactly. Exactly. And I think that - I eventually became an entrepreneur - and I think that was very helpful, you don't take it personally. You just keep going. But yeah, it was definitely a lot of fun. I did live like a local, because they would put us in apartments in normal neighborhoods in the cities and I was there for months at a time. You end up having to go to the supermarket and buy your food and getting to know the people, the restaurants around. So, it was definitely an incredible experience. I would have never had this opportunity had it not been for modeling. I learned so many different languages, I met so many different people, a lot of creative people as well in the fashion industry, which is why I think I can do the content that I do as well. Because I've worked with creatives for 13 years.

Bret Kugelmass
What was the next milestone or break point? Was there a moment where you stopped trying to just traveling, traveling, trying to pick up jobs here and there and settled in one area or another for a little bit more of a long term basis?

Isabelle Boemeke
Yeah, I eventually came back to the US and I started getting jobs pretty much every day. That's when I personally didn't see the need to keep traveling. The goal with traveling so much is basically to build materials so you can eventually settle in a place, especially in New York, since it's the fashion capital of the world and you can just get jobs consistently. So, I got to that point and decided to kind of slow down. To be honest, as much as I enjoy modeling a lot, it's super fun. You're never bored. You're never sitting at an office looking at a computer all day you're always - at least for an extrovert is the perfect job - because you're traveling and chatting with people all day, fun, creative folks again. And we talk a lot about the diversity and the fashion industry is one of the most diverse industries in the world. And ironically - I mean, it's not ironically, but - a fact is that female models make a lot more money than male models. So, it's probably one of the only industries where women make a lot more money than men. It was definitely great, but it just never fulfilled me intellectually. Obviously, that's not the circle. I always craved something else and I knew that, eventually, I would start my own thing or start a company or something else.

Bret Kugelmass
When did that come to fruition? What was the first idea when you were really kind of your own boss and really trying to build your own business? And do you remember if there was a specific source of inspiration that kicked it off?

Isabelle Boemeke
Again, since I was little, I had this idea that I would use modeling as a way to get out of Brazil, get to see the world and then eventually I would make my own money to be able to start my own business. I didn't know what the business was. I think a lot of entrepreneurs have this, they have this dream of having their thing, but they don't know what. At the time, I was very into skincare - I still am very into skincare and cosmetics and all of that, I think a lot of women are - and I decided to just create my own line. It was just this idea, Okay, I'm going to start my own cosmetics line. Of course, I didn't know anything about A) starting a company, but B) also skincare or how to make skincare. Of course, I went to the best university in the world: YouTube. Literally, I think that nowadays anybody with an internet connection and enough curiosity can learn pretty much anything on YouTube. And I learned, I actually learned how to make cosmetics. I faked the brochure, designed it on Photoshop, and faked that I had an existing company and sent it to a manufacturing company, so they could send me bulk samples of ingredients. They sent me all of that for free. And I started - bought some stuff on Amazon - making cosmetics in my kitchen. I played around with a bunch of formulas, finally settled on one that I liked. At the time, the idea was, I was still traveling even within the US a lot for work and always with makeup on and always with harsh lights on. So, the idea was to create a face mist that would hydrate the skin on the go. And because I'm from Brazil, I wanted to use Brazilian ingredients and kind of have a Brazilian brands. I developed a coconut water face mist, and had to call all different manufacturers and get a packaging that I found suitable. At the time, also I wanted it to be the most eco friendly as it could be. I found this fully recyclable spray can - which most aerosol cans are not fully recyclable, and they also have propellants, which are harmful - so, this used only compressed air. The ingredients were were all natural, didn't have any fake preservatives. That was definitely a learning experience. And throughout the process, I did everything myself. I did the marketing myself, I designed the packaging myself, I designed the website.

Bret Kugelmass
So, you're learning, product marketing, product development, you're learning the business and finance aspect of it. I mean, you're doing this on your own dime, so you probably feel, feel the economics of it much more tangibly than then someone who's just working at a company doing a similar thing.

Isabelle Boemeke
Right. But also that allowed me to create a company with very little money, because I literally did everything myself. So, I launched the product and as soon as I launched the product, I realized there was a bigger opportunity of creating an incubator of cosmetics, to reach out to people like me who had an idea, were passionate about something, but didn't know the first thing about starting a skincare line. I worked on that for a little bit. Then, to be honest, at the end of 2019, I got really depressed with the fires in Australia and the Amazon and I had kind of an existential crisis and thought to myself, does the world need another skincare brand? And the answer was very clearly no. And I decided to put an end to that and use all the skills that I had learned and everything I had gathered in the last, I don't know, 13 years to do something different.

Bret Kugelmass
This idea of environmentalism, obviously, is a vein that courses through your life story. Now that you're at the point where you know that you want to do something, go hard on this idea of sustainability, and forge business around it from the get go - or not even a business, but some initiative, and we'll see where it goes and your story - how did you decide, how do you narrow it down? There are so many things. There's water, there's air, there's pollution, there are a million different things. How do you know where to go?

Isabelle Boemeke
Because my existential crisis was fueled by the fires, really, in the Amazon and Australia, and especially this video of this native woman in the Amazon crying because her whole village was burned down. Of course, when you look at the history of Native people in Brazil, they've had to endure so much already and then now, they're also enduring these natural disasters. And I know that we cannot trace any specific fire to climate change, but we also know that they're increasing in frequency, right? Of course, it also probably has to do with the fact that I am a millennial and I grew up with climate change being the environmental issue that we care about, right. So, having all of that, I decided to actually look into what it would take to solve climate change. Not just complain about it and be miserable and be depressed about the whole thing. I started buying a bunch of books and reading into it and pretty soon realized that nuclear energy had to be a part of the solution. But a parallel story, which is something that happened even before this, was that in 2015 or 2016, Carolyn Porco, who is a big NASA scientist, tweeted something about molten salt thorium reactors. She said they were a much better technology than wind and that we should be investing in it. I became so curious about it. At the time, 2015, 2016 I tried googling it, but good luck understanding what a molten salt thorium reactor is.

Bret Kugelmass
Seriously. It's interesting, because you're not the first person who I've heard say there's thorium that kind of brought them into the sector, and then they realize just the advantages of the sector as a whole and not even one specific technology. But yes, it is daunting for an outsider without a high level of technical training to even approach the sector, because there's - I mean, I don't know if they do it on purpose - but there are so many terms and names and concepts that feed on other concepts. It's hard.

Isabelle Boemeke
Right. It's really challenging, and that at the time, I found it was more challenging, but it could also be because I didn't have the foundation of nuclear energy knowledge to begin with, right? Because to begin to understand what a molten salt thorium reactor is, you have to understand what nuclear energy is. And at the time, I had no idea. But I have always had this curiosity and I would ask people. I've circulated a lot in circles where there are a lot of scientists, and I would ask them, Have you heard of molten salt reactors? And most of them hadn't. But the funny thing is that most people, behind the scenes, will tell you, Oh, yeah, nuclear is great and we actually should use it. But they won't say it publicly. So, fast forward to the end of 2019, I got this depression, started reading into what it would take. Nuclear energy came up again and then I remember thinking all those times where people would tell me behind closed doors that it was great, but they wouldn't say publicly and I realized, well, there is an opportunity for me to come out and try to explain to people the benefits of nuclear power so I can actually buy them social license to come out in support.

Bret Kugelmass
Interesting. What types of people- did you have a specific target audience in mind that you felt like- I know, you said you hung out in circles of scientists - but is there a more defined persona of this person who will support nuclear in private but not in public?

Isabelle Boemeke
I mean, a lot of leaders in the business community, for sure. A lot of just scientists in general, obviously, physicists or even astronomers or astrophysicist, these are all people who are generally positive towards nuclear. But a lot of business leaders like I said, but these are all people that, again, just won't say it publicly for fear of retaliation.

Bret Kugelmass
See, this is something I've struggled with, so maybe we can just explore together a little bit. What is it about a person- so, maybe I like poking the bear. And so, I've never had a problem with that conflict. If you believe in something, say it. If some people don't like it, okay, too bad, man. It's not like you're gonna lose your friends. And if you do lose your friends, they're not really good friends. Maybe, I don't know, other people are just more scared. Do you have any thoughts on that as to why it is, if you've got conviction about something, that people will hold back? I mean, it's not like- I mean, I guess in today's cancel culture, but it's not like one of those types of things that you'll lose your spot on a board of directors or anything if you come in and support nuclear. The repercussions just don't seem that bad, right. There's like social and professional, I can't really see it hurting people professionally, and socially. Tough luck, right?

Isabelle Boemeke
I think it's different personalities. I've always been okay with also seeing it as it is to maybe a fault. I tend to be pretty straightforward and I speak my mind, for better or for worse. The other thing is that I think the environmental movement has been extremely effective at communicating anti-nuclear sentiment and at tangling nuclear energy with nuclear weapons. So, I think in a lot of people's minds, whenever you're supporting nuclear energy, you're automatically supporting nuclear weapons or something like that. Maybe there is a little bit of that and you also have to remember that a lot of these folks I'm talking about are older, an older generation. The anti-nuclear sentiment in their generations is even greater, whereas for us- Right, it's ingrained, whereas for us and for me, myself, at least, there was a generally negative reaction to nuclear, but it's not as emotionally deep as someone who grew up with the fears of nuclear war.

Bret Kugelmass
Alright, so you've identified a problem. You're like, Hey, I can come in and I can do this thing or that thing. And maybe really even influence not just in my social - I'm speaking as you now - not just in my social network, but like a much like broader conversation about the topic. And, like you said, grant people a social license, perhaps people that you don't even know. What was- how are you going to actually- okay, so you had that idea - how are you actually going to implement that?

Isabelle Boemeke
My idea, it was actually funny, because it was out of the blue. I was, I remember, I was brushing my teeth. It was like the 31st of December, something like that. I was brushing my teeth looking in the mirror and I said, What if I become a nuclear energy influencer, and just create the types of content that people are attracted to in social media - things like selfies, outfit of the day photos, makeup tutorials, my diet videos - and just use that to actually talk about something that matters, which is climate change and in this case, specifically nuclear energy. The idea was very clear to me from the beginning. It was just hijacking popular content to talk about nuclear energy. Of course, the execution, when you have an idea, it looks perfect in your head and then when you start executing, you come across all different types of barriers. But I think that's where my experience with entrepreneurship and launching my brand was helpful, because I just kept going.

Bret Kugelmass
It is pretty incredible. I see this now. I mean, I think when you came about - I'm not on social media, really, other than LinkedIn, if you consider that social media - and it wasn't even, I hadn't even seen Tik Tok when you were coming to prominence, but now I've looked into it a little - sorry, I sound like a grandpa, I'm looking into Tik Tok.

Isabelle Boemeke
Okay, boomer.

Bret Kugelmass
But it does seem like these channels offer this incredibly low overhead infrastructure to build a brand to quite a massive audience. And it's almost like,. I think it's more meritocratic than almost any other channel, because since there's so much content out there. And now I think with like the algorithms that are not even- I don't even know how much they take into account likes and stuff, it's really just tracking the time, I think with Tik Tok, literally just tracking the time that you spend on that content between you. It does seem extremely meritocratic. So, if you've got an interesting, compelling way to present a message, you can go from the two people looking at it to 20,000 to 200,000, or perhaps even more, in a very short period of time with very little investment. Is that right?

Isabelle Boemeke
Yeah, that's right, especially with platforms like Tik Tok. And you're right, the algorithm really favors just people engaging content. At the time I had zero. I started my Tik Tok account with zero followers, for Isodope. For Instagram and Twitter, I already had some following from my modeling career and all of that, but Tik Tok, I started from scratch, and it grew pretty quickly and it's all because I was creating - I am creating - engaging content. I think that there's a lot of resistance from older audiences to just accepting that people are on social media that much. And that's how people will consume information, especially in the future. But I think we should engage with it in the opposite way, of just recognizing how amazing it is that you actually can distribute good educational content to millions of people without putting that much effort.

Bret Kugelmass
It's so amazing. And maybe this is even broader conversation, but the way that it almost kind of trains your brain in these little bite sized increments. It almost reminds me of like flashcards, like when I'd study - sorry, once again, I sound really dated, I'm not that old I swear - like when you study math equations, you do a little bite size chunk, then you put it down, and you pick back up the deck of cards and you do it again. And somehow, people figured out over time, that like the way that the brain is hardwired, this is a very easy way to accumulate a lot of information in these short little bursts.

Isabelle Boemeke
And we can pass a moral judgment on whether that's good or bad. I mean, I think at the end of the day it doesn't matter. That's how technology is progressing. What we can do is actually just use it for a good end. And that's what I've tried to do, which is, people are - again, for better or for worse - people engage with this type of content. People are attracted to makeup tutorials, and diet videos, and all of that. Okay, how can I use that to then talk about something interesting, instead of just complaining about it?

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, it's amazing. I remember. Do you remember that one girl who was doing a makeup tutorial, and then started talking about the Uyghurs in China? It was a really- you remember that? And that made national mainstream, like NBC was showing that on the nightly news. So, it is pretty interesting.

Isabelle Boemeke
Yes, it's powerful. And it's also just recognizing where people are and engaging with them.

Bret Kugelmass
How do you get feedback from this, though? I guess, I'm interested. When you put a piece of content out there other than just a bunch of likes and shares, and maybe even some people writing back to, are there any other ways to really engage with the audience to make sure that they're getting the correct takeaways from what you're trying to communicate?

Isabelle Boemeke
I think it's mostly through comments, and just making sure I respond to people.

Bret Kugelmass
And you do. Is there that interaction?

Isabelle Boemeke
Yes, yes, I definitely try to. I mean, of course, you have to be selective and know which people are actually open to having a conversation and which ones are just trolling or trying to be offensive or commenting just to be snarky. So, I try to be selective and just waste my time really, with those who are confused and who have questions. I mean, with the work that we have to do, we're not just trying to educate people on the subject, we're trying to deprogram them from decades of bad information put out into the world.

Bret Kugelmass
Well, that is not easy. I guess, which platform are you most active on? Is it Twitter or is it Tik Tok?

Isabelle Boemeke
It's Twitter, I'm very addicted to Twitter, unfortunately. But I try to be on all of them all the time, but Twitter is my favorite.

Bret Kugelmass
And because you made that comment about decades of reprogramming. I know that the Tik Tok audience skews younger, and so I'm wondering if people are just naturally more open-minded on that platform, because they don't have decades of programming. Twitter, I guess, has accumulated enough of an older audience.

Isabelle Boemeke
Yes, I think you're right. And Tik Tok is younger. Definitely my audience, my audience on Tik Tok is very surprising. It's 82% female and they're between 14 and 25 years old. Very, very young, mostly female. And these are mostly- yeah, it's pretty incredible, actually, especially, especially for science communication.

Bret Kugelmass
I'm just like sitting in my head thinking, god, how many budding engineers has she inspired?

Isabelle Boemeke
I hope. I mean, that's the hope, right? And I think a big part of what I do, as well, is not only to change public perception and give folks the social license to speak publicly about nuclear, but also, I think that the problems that the nuclear industry faces are not unsolvable. There's nothing- like the problem of cost. There is nothing about a nuclear power plant - and you know this better than I do - that makes it intrinsically expensive. It's not made of unicorn hair.

Bret Kugelmass
I'm so glad you're saying this. I mean, this is the point I hammer home that I do not think most people in the nuclear industry get, like professionals in the space. Engineers in the space do think that it's made of unicorn hair. I don't know how, but they do think it's made of unicorn hair.

Isabelle Boemeke
It's not, it's made of very normal materials. And I mean, except for uranium, maybe, you know, or the fissile material. But even that is like, uranium abundance. So, the cost issue, you can always bring it down. I mean, we saw it with renewables. And I know people will say, Well, you don't understand how manufacturing works. And it's like, Yes, I kind of understand that you cannot make millions of nuclear power plants in a day, but you can still reduce the costs quite significantly. And a big part of why I think we haven't been able to solve is also because, who is going to study nuclear engineering if all you hear when you're growing up is that this is an evil technology and it's a dead industry, that if you want to work on energy, you should work on solar panels or wind turbines. These are only people who either their parents were nuclear engineers, or were interested in this area, or people who just luckily came across it.

Bret Kugelmass
That's a really good point. And I noticed that in my interviews. I've interviewed people in all different age brackets and the story is pretty consistent across the year that they came into it, but very inconsistent across the decades. In the beginning, it was like, Hey, there was this oil crisis. And I wanted to get involved so we weren't dependent on foreign powers. I've met some people who are pretty old, and they're like, Oh, it was like, the futuristic technologies like the Jetsons, a nuclear thing. And then a little bit later, it's like, I took like a power engineering course, and it was still a vibrant enough sector. And so I kind of ended up there just from doing thermal engineering work. Then the real shame is this last cohort. I mean, god bless them that there's still enough people out there. A lot of it is just a kind of - this is like, almost every time it's like - I went to my freshman engineering class, where they introduced a whole bunch of engineering and nuclear seems cool and, for some reason, it never really heard something bad about it. So, I decided to do that one. That's not enough to create a really vibrant industry.

Isabelle Boemeke
Industry. Exactly. And that's exactly my point. Imagine the amount of brain power that we could have in the industry if it was seen as a net positive to the world. So, that's a second part of of my work is just inspiring, future business people and engineers and whoever else wants to work in the industry to actually pursue it.

Bret Kugelmass
Do we have a sense of which pieces of content are mostly - I mean, you put a lot of stuff. Actually, can just describe a little bit about what the content might look like for those who haven't seen it? And then, maybe, can you compare and contrast one that worked really well. And one that didn't work quite as well?

Isabelle Boemeke
Itt's interesting, because I have different audiences in each platform. And so the content varies a little bit in terms of effectiveness. But of course, the content that does the best for me is the bait and switch, which I start with a normal model video of Hey, guys, a lot of you have been asking about my skincare routine, and then I suddenly merge into talking about nuclear energy, those are very popular.

Bret Kugelmass
I love it. Who knew that that would work so well?

Isabelle Boemeke
I know, it could have - that's the thing about this project - it could have failed miserably, and it would have just been this embarrassing attempt at something that didn't work or didn't go anywhere. But I thought it was worth pursuing. So, those are very, very popular. The ones that are least popular, I would say, are some where I'm just giving straight up facts, not using other, I don't know, not using other style, or other types of content in it. But yeah, the ones bait and switch are very, very popular. But you know, they're very hard to do as well and it takes me a while. And to be honest, I don't want to make every single one of my videos that, because it kind of loses the specialness of it. Now I'm starting to look forward to creating other types of content as well. Yeah, so as you know, it gets to a point where it's impossible, basically, to communicate the things that I have to communicate in one minute. Then if I try really hard-

Bret Kugelmass
You've done a pretty good job so far, I have to say.

Isabelle Boemeke
Right, but it's getting to a point where, okay, I need more than a minute just to give the nuances and the waste issue is is a perfect example.

Bret Kugelmass
We could talk for an hour on that, and still not get through all the nuances.

Isabelle Boemeke
Right. And it's interesting, because to me, the waste is actually one of the good parts of nuclear energy in that - and I don't need to preach to you, because you probably agree with me - it is the only waste that is actually contained.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah. And the only one that is totally accounted for and, oh, by the way, can become other productive things as well.

Isabelle Boemeke
Exactly. Totally accounted for. The industry itself is responsible for it. You want to talk about waste. I mean, let's look at plastic waste, for instance - which by the way, I find it a much bigger problem than nuclear waste. The industry has zero responsibility. It's literally dumping plastic into the oceans, which is causing all these other massive problems. And now it's like nonprofit organizations, and who else knows, is having to care for that waste and find ways of disposing it. It's insane. And then we talk about-let's not even talk about fossil fuel waste, right? It's just spewing into the air, contaminating our air, or water, killing at least 5 million people every single year with zero accountability.

Bret Kugelmass
But this is what makes it challenging. I agree. I'd love to hear your explanation. But what I've come across why the nuclear industry is responsible for its own perception problem, waste, what I've come across. it's not just from being bad marketers. It's actually because there is a huge business around the fear of nuclear and scientists spending godless government research dollars to try to cook up. I mean, one way the industry was essentially bought off from not saying waste is not that big a deal was Yucca Mountain. $6 billion got injected through all of the channels of the nuclear industry to fund researchers, scientists, anyone who would have normally said, just come out and say, I'm a scientist, listen, this is one of the least environmental problems that we have to deal with. Instead, they got 100,000 grant- and it wasn't like intentional, I'm not saying there's conspiracy - but this is just the way that the incentive structure developed to keep them from saying that's not a problem.

Isabelle Boemeke
That could be true, I think, I mean, also nuclear waste, let's face it, it's dangerous, if not managed properly, right?

Bret Kugelmass
If you jump on it and eat it?

Isabelle Boemeke
Exactly. If it's not managed properly, and so you can't see a scenario where, like in the plastics industry, with people throwing it somewhere, of course, it would be harmful. So, there is an argument to be made that it has to be handled properly, in order for it not to be dangerous. But once it is, then yes, it doesn't make sense to keep fear mongering. And the truth is, I mean, it makes sense - your argument makes sense - because the industry is unfortunately declining. And so, maybe this was a way they saw to keep their business going. If they're not going to be making more energy, then maybe we can manage this waste for thousands of years and pretend like we need all these people around it to protect it.

Bret Kugelmass
That's exactly right. I mean, it is a desperate downward spiral of self-cannibalism.

Isabelle Boemeke
Right. And the truth is, now it's just making things way more difficult than they have to be. And I don't know that we can- I don't know how we can walk back from that from changing the public perception that the waste is not that big of a deal if the industry itself is saying that it is.

Bret Kugelmass
This is a problem. This is a problem across industry, not just waste, but radiation safety, siting consideration, I mean, they're all there. Waste is not the only one where the industry is our own worst enemy in terms of public communication. So, what are you going to do about it?

Isabelle Boemeke
What I'm going to talk about the waste? Well, I haven't figured out a way to solve the waste.

Bret Kugelmass
Not solve the waste, solve the perception.

Isabelle Boemeke
Solve the perception. Well, I'm working on a series which I've been working on for almost a year now - which is embarrassing - but the truth is, I decided it was a bad idea. But I decided to include renewables waste in it. I made a bunch of calculations with nuclear engineers and some other folks in the nuclear industry to get the numbers correctly. But I thought it would be better if I reached out to someone on the renewable side to do those calculations, because it's only fair, right? That's their industry, just like, if someone was talking about nuclear waste, I would have appreciated if they reached out to somebody in the nuclear industry. So, that's what I did. And of course, it added a whole other level of complexity, and back and forth, and calculations and disagreements, and so on, and so forth. I'm still not done with all those calculations, but we're getting there. And then I also want to address the issue that, even if we stop using nuclear energy today, and we shut down every single nuclear power plant in the world, the waste is still going to be there. So, the big question is, what are we going to do with it? And then I want to highlight that the possibilities are: we can recycle and reuse it for fuel for next generation of reactors, we can just leave them in the casks and just change the casks every 100 years or so as they deteriorate - which, I don't find that idea compelling, but some people like it - or as you know, we can just put them in deep geological formations.

Bret Kugelmass
I like the hybrid approach with the first two you said. I mean, just to think we were riding horses and buggies 100 years ago in New York. The hubris to think that 100 years from now they won't be able to have a much more cost effective better technology to handle this, including next gen reactors too, those certainly might be even 20-30 years from now. To say that is not good enough to put it in these 100 year casks - which, by the way, when I speak to people, they say it's not 100 years, they like get the stamp or 100 years, but it's really like 200 plus years or more. It's grout, we have grout around, like cement, we have cement around from Roman times that's still intact.

Isabelle Boemeke
Yeah, it's just an estimation, because we don't know yet. But we have to consider that for that, you need surveillance and this and that. So, it again, adds a number of people that have to be in charge of it. But have you come across deep isolation?

Bret Kugelmass
I have, I have mixed feelings, but go ahead.

Isabelle Boemeke
Well, but at least they're offering a solution where you can actually bury it deep and it's retrievable. So, in the future, if we do come up with a solution - which, hopefully we will, I mean, it makes no sense not to - we can actually retrieve the waste and reprocess and use it as fuel.

Bret Kugelmass
I think my biggest criticism is, if that's the strategy, you don't have to go deep. You don't have to use this- I mean, their whole pitch is like, Listen, we're using this horizontal drilling technology from the oil industry and they're going to convince governments to spend billions of dollars on their product. That's going to be the driving incentive behind the business. Whereas, you could literally find a bunch of shallow isolation areas that you know water hasn't run through for the last million years, for whatever geological reason, and for almost no money, you could just put it there.

Isabelle Boemeke
I haven't come across that. You should send it to me. Definitely, so I can highlight in my video. At the end, though, it's just that we're even debating different solutions. So, at the end of the day, I just want to show people that we not only have a solution to the waste problem, we have several. And we can we can actually choose. This idea that, Well, we don't know what to do with the waste, is completely false. We actually do know, we just have to get it going. And I actually think we should settle on something soon, just so we can move forward.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, good luck, though, because it's kind of like - you've heard the whole thing in US politics where the reason the Democrats have had many chances to tie minimum wage to inflation so it increases every year automatically and they never even push for it, because they like the fight. Because the fight is their business. The fight is how they get more, how they get their base riled up to always be fighting for minimum wage and never actually solve the problem. I feel like that is once again, a big case with the nuclear industry, they like being in limbo, because then they get to go to Congress and ask for billions of dollars to constantly be trying to solve it.

Isabelle Boemeke
And to be fair, I think there is no incentive for the environmental community as well to want a solution, because the moment you have a solution to nuclear waste, you don't have an argument against it.

Bret Kugelmass
Exactly. Right. So, I should have clarified, so I wasn't just picking on the Democrats, the exact same thing. Both sides like the fight. And so, in the case of minimum wage, Republicans like it, Democrats like it, because it's something to fight over. And then in the case of nuclear waste, the nuclear scientists don't want a solution and the environmentalists want something to fight over.

Isabelle Boemeke
Right, exactly. It's just so we can keep holding on to our arguments forever and die thinking that we were right.

Bret Kugelmass
That is a bit depressing.

Isabelle Boemeke
I know that's why, you know, they just did all the UFO videos this week?

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, what's going on with that? I really just was flipping through the news last night, and everyone is commenting on it. It's just like, what is going on?

Isabelle Boemeke
I don't know, I saw this 60 Minutes interview with some people who were in the military and they were tracking UFOs. There were some testaments of, I don't know, four or five different folks talking about how they saw this unidentified flying object, and they were flying at speeds that we don't have the technology for and they were disappearing, or just like going underwater, and there's footage of it. But of course, the footage is always grainy. And always like, it could be something else, but it could also be a UFO. So, it's very unclear, but the documents are being unclassified. All the videos have been unclassified, so they're now publicly available. And the government itself admits that they don't know what it is.

Bret Kugelmass
I'm trying to figure out what they're trying to distract us from that they're releasing this. Is something else going on in the world that they just do not want us paying attention to, so they're just like throwing UFO videos out?

Isabelle Boemeke
I mean, to be honest, I think it's highly unlikely that it's aliens. The truth is-

Bret Kugelmass
And you would know, you dress up like one all the time.

Isabelle Boemeke
I am an alien. No, but it's not impossible, right? I mean, what I think is impossible is that, in the whole universe, we're the only technologically advanced species. I think that's what's impossible or unlikely.

Bret Kugelmass
I could not agree with you more, I both believe that there are other alien species and that these videos are probably a bit of a joke.

Isabelle Boemeke
Exactly, exactly, to my point. But to outright say, It's never aliens, it's impossible. I don't think we should take that approach. But my point I was trying to make with that, with the UFO videos, is that, I was like, God, I hope it's aliens, because it's finally going to force us to get our act together, and like, actually collaborate, and work to solve it. Because unfortunately, I think it's human nature a little bit, we just don't solve things and don't take things seriously until we're all about to die.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, I've struggled with that concept, though, because, with COVID and everything, I thought that we would treat a virus as this alien threat - viruses kind of are aliens, you know.

Isabelle Boemeke
Right. But it's not human, at least.

Bret Kugelmass
Right. And so I would have thought that this could have been something that brought the whole world together and we resolved our differences to eliminate, not just COVID, but all viruses like we set up, you know, like, we set up the International Space Station this international collaboration? I would have thought the result of COVID would have been, we're going to set up these 20 research centers that are cross disciplinary and cross country, and we just solve all viruses forever. But maybe I was too optimistic.

Isabelle Boemeke
Agreed. But the only hope we have is to keep pushing for that, right? It's just, let's keep pushing. And maybe we make progress very slowly, but we do. And history tells us that. When we look back, people love to complain about how, Oh, this is the worst time and everything is so messed up. But when you look historically, I mean, if I could have chosen to be born at any point in time, I would have chosen now, especially being a woman. So, I think the only hope we have is to keep pushing forward and keep progressing very slowly, but surely.

Bret Kugelmass
So, I want to cover just two more things with you before we wrap up. What's coming next for you? I know you're going to release this series that you've been spending a lot of time on. Any other projects that you've kind of got cooking up in the background?

Isabelle Boemeke
Yeah, one of them is the campaign to save Diablo Canyon, which I talked about publicly before and it's something that I'm still actively working on. I'm sure you're familiar with the issue around our existing nuclear fleet. A lot of them are shutting down. This year, already, Indian Point was shut down. And then we have two plants in Illinois coming up. Of course, every time the plants shut down, the politicians promise they're going to be fully replaced by renewables, and surely enough, they're not. Every single time. It's almost like a joke at this point, right? And then we have big environmental organizations like the NRDC actually celebrating the shutdown of existing nuclear plants, which sort of goes against what their mission is.

Bret Kugelmass
How can they be so hypocritical, I just don't get it.

Isabelle Boemeke
Once you understand the history of the environmental movement in the United States, it makes a lot more sense. And I did a lot of research for a podcast that I did recently specifically on Diablo Canyon. It kind of explains the reason why I'm also focusing on Diablo, because it is the most politically relevant plant in the United States. Period. Not only because it's in California, which is considered kind of a leader in the environmental front - even though it might be ironic at points, it is - but also because the build out and opening of Diablo Canyon basically divided the environmental movement at the time. The Sierra Club, at the time, had a president called William Siri and he was he actually studied radiation. He was pretty pro-nuclear energy. And he settled in like '64 with PG&E to open Diablo in San Luis Obispo, where it is now, in order to protect a different area where PG&E wanted to build a plant, but that doesn't matter. Whenever the Sierra Club actually agreed to open up a nuclear power plant, a lot of its members kind of rebelled against it. One of them named David Brower left and started Friends of the Earth. So, kind of the birth of a lot of these environmental organizations was directly related to nuclear power. So, it's ingrained, right, it's ingrained in their DNA. The ironic thing, the funny thing about David Brower is that he was anti-immigration and he was very concerned with reducing population. So, a lot of again, this anti-nuclear sentiment ties back to just not wanting more humans on planet earth and knowing that nuclear power could provide the electricity that people would need to just keep having kids. Once you understand that, you understand why a lot of them are anti-nuclear. But, you know, in the case of the NRDC, I don't know, publicly they state they're not anti-nuclear. I think they state their anti-new nuclear, but in favor of keeping existing plants, but their track record shows something different.

Bret Kugelmass
Could have fooled me.

Isabelle Boemeke
Exactly, they're literally celebrating the shutdown of Indian Point. And as we know, with Indian Point, it was fully replaced by natural gas. The next day. And it will be for decades. Some people make the argument that it's just a little bump, that eventually emissions will decrease. But the truth is, emissions are not only bad in terms of climate change, they're also bad in terms of air pollution. This little bump will actually cost lives. And especially lives of minority people who live close to this to this power plants.

Bret Kugelmass
I'm always a little bit shocked about the, especially within the nuclear regulators, in a certain sense, they've got - not that they're bad people, I think - but they've got this very narrow mandate. The mandate is not to protect human life. The mandate is to protect people from radiation only, even if it means a net increase in risk to their health from other sources. They stick dogmatically to that.

Isabelle Boemeke
Is that because they're still following the non-linear threshold theory?

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, and just in general, they just don't- it's the culture that's built there. Once again, nothing wrong with the people, some really, really smart people there, but they just don't have the mandate. It's never been built into the culture to consider anything other than radiation in their calculations of whether to approve a new generation.

Isabelle Boemeke
I think there's - and we can talk about this at some other points as well - but I think we need to also invest in scientific research around the effects of radiation, because there is some out there, but I think it needs to be much more so that the science becomes overwhelming and to a point where, if you actually disagree with it, then you're anti-science.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, I agree. Totally.

Isabelle Boemeke
But back to Diablo Canyon because I want to finish this point. What I like about Diablo, the reason why I focused so much on it is A) because it's super politically relevant, but also because I think that, once California shuts down it's last nuclear power plant, there is no way they're going to build even new generation reactors that are better, safer, whatever you want to you want to use to classify them. And the truth is, we still have time. To a lot of these other plants like Illinois, it's only a couple of weeks. In the case of Diablo, we have three years left for the first reactor and four for the second one, so there's still time. And also, things in California are changing very quickly. We have the electric vehicle mandate kicking in in 2035, which means the state will need a lot more electricity at night, because that's when people charge their cars and California is mostly solar. At the end of the day, if the sun is not out, as you know, we don't have electricity from solar, and it's probably going to be natural gas. The state has also authorized natural gas plants to keep operating as long as there's risk of blackouts, which is always, and, especially after shutting Diablo, the risk of blackouts will increase. There is a chance. It's all political. It's all about just convincing people. It's all about getting people to understand what this means, what shutting down one single power plant that makes enough clean electricity for 3 million people, the effect that that has. And again-

Bret Kugelmass
If you pull this off, this would be a just a tremendous win, because it's going to be one of the harder ones to accomplish. Not like Illinois, where they've got other plants and it's an existing industry that can help rally behind you. It's California, you're kind of on your own out there.

Isabelle Boemeke
It's definitely an uphill battle. But I think that if enough people speak up and enough people want to help this cause, it's actually doable. I do believe it's doable, at least to extend the license for, I don't know, another five years and then someone else comes into power and maybe you can talk to them differently, because we know Gavin Newsom is very anti-Diablo Canyon. So, if somebody else comes into power, maybe they can see the benefits of the plant. And, as you know, nuclear power plants now are being relicensed for up to 80 years. There's nothing that said they couldn't be relicensed for up to 100 years. Just keeping that amount of clean power, if you want to replace it at the end of the day, if you have all the renewables infrastructure in place, and all the batteries - which I don't think you will, soon enough - and you want to replace Diablo, fine. And then you want to build a new generation of nuclear power plants, fine. But doing it right now, when we clearly don't have the replacement in place. I mean, even the Union of Concerned Scientists, who, you spoke to one of its members

Bret Kugelmass
Oh, you listened to that one.

Isabelle Boemeke
I did listen to that one. I was eating popcorn while listening to it. But even they put out a study saying that closing Diablo will lead to an additional 15.5 million metric tons of carbon emissions in the next decade. That's like keeping 300,000 gas powered cars on the road for the next 10 years. Doing that purely for political reasons makes no sense.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, I know, you're preaching to the choir here. I wish you the best of luck on that one. If there's anything we can do, obviously, with our limited means, probably just interviewing people here and there, we're happy to chip in.

Isabelle Boemeke
Thank you.

Bret Kugelmass
Okay, as we wrap up today, I mean, this has been obviously a very interesting and wide ranging conversation. I can continue many more with you. But I just want to wrap up with a little bit about your hopes and dreams for the future.

Isabelle Boemeke
My hopes and dreams are that we actually are able to extend the license of all the nuclear power plants that are about to be shut down, and that they can help us decarbonize faster. And my hopes for the long term future is that people realize that nuclear energy is actually the best solution we have. And not only in terms of climate change, but in terms of energy and energy poverty as well and that we can build the future of clean, reliable and abundant energy for everyone, no matter where they were born.

Bret Kugelmass
Isabelle Boemeke, can't end on a better note than that. Thanks so much for taking the time today, sharing your insights, thoughts and progress with us.

Isabelle Boemeke
Thank you so much, Bret.

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