1 – (00:35) Upbringing & Collegiate History
Naomi Senehi: Where did you grow up? Tell me about your upbringing.
Jackie Kempfer: I grew up in Newburn, North Carolina. It’s become quite a tourist destination recently, but when I was growing up it was very small and quiet, near the beach, though I don’t surf much. I completed my undergrad at East Carolina University. When I first arrived, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do there, so I ended up leaving school eventually, and worked with a contracting company that opened and trained staff in home improvement stores across the US. I learned to use power tools, traveled a lot, and trained lots of young people how to maneuver and operate the stores. I got burnt out of that job eventually, so I returned to North Carolina and waited tables for a while, then went back to school for history. After completing my undergrad, I worked within the Dean’s office of the college, and learned how narrow professor’s research can be, which pointed me towards NC State University to pursue a Master’s in International Relations, where I simultaneously worked as the Executive Assistant to the Director for the university’s recreation center.
2 – (09:29) Graduate Experiences that led to Nuclear
Naomi Senehi: I respect and appreciate the strong work ethic you retained throughout your undergrad and graduate career.
Jackie Kempfer: Yes, well there were many moments of frustration and confusion, for sure, but I had quite a few strong mentors that pointed me on my best path. When I was in high school, I would volunteer with WorldChangers for many summers, and this organization builds and repairs homes after disasters, and I loved working with them. It was amazing to see the results of your efforts in real time, and how it can improve and impact the lives of people in your community. So in graduate school, I decided to go into International Disaster Management, but they didn’t have that as a major, so they made one just for me. There was a devastating earthquake in Nepal, and so I traveled there to volunteer with an organization called All Hands, and there was a lot of work to be done. While there, I had a “mid-master’s crisis” of sorts, and I decided that it was not the path I wanted to take as a career, for a number of reasons. Once back in North Carolina, I took a class on Nuclear Non-Proliferation Policy with Dr. Robert Riordan, and I loved it! He put me in touch with the right people and information that sparked my interest in nuclear policy.
3 – (17:36) Emerging Programs on Nuclear Policy
Naomi Senehi: That’s fortunate that they had a program in nuclear policy, because those two fields can go pretty hand in hand.
Jackie Kempfer: Exactly, I’m starting to hear about more formal programs that combine nuclear and policy studies. I returned to Dr. Riordan’s class a couple years ago, and was amazed to find that half the class was, in fact, nuclear engineering students. I see programs like this at UC Berkeley, Princeton, etc.
(Naomi Senehi: Why did you take that nuclear non-proliferation class in the first place?)
Jackie Kempfer: The history aspect of the course was comforting because I was confident in that area, and the nuclear side was just new enough and exciting enough to peak my interest. I had one class on International Political Economy, which I struggled with, but was also really rewarding and useful for my upcoming career.
4 – (21:41) Post-graduate Experience at Stimson
Naomi Senehi: So tell me what happens after you receive your Master’s?
Jackie Kempfer: Just before graduating, actually, I did an internship with the Stimson Center here in DC, which was an amazing opportunity, but it was unpaid and so Dr. Betcher was a huge help in getting me funding to afford to be able to live and work in DC. Simultaneously, I was finishing up my thesis on Nuclear Non-Proliferation, specifically on the break of the Soviet Union’s “Nuclear Disinheritance” and the negotiation process between the US, Russia & Ukraine. After graduation, I received a job offer from Stimson, and got to briefly meet Cindy Vestergaard, who I’d really wanted to work with. I enjoyed her work on the nuclear fuel cycle. I loved that Stimson allowed me to work with many talented women in the industry, and I learned a lot about Nuclear Security and the nuclear world of DC. It was a lot of new information all at once, but it was very rewarding to connect me with organizations and people around Nuclear Security. My main project there was a draft for an Organizational Governance Template for Nuclear Security. It was a great industry-led initiative.
5 – (31:26) Organizational Governance Template for Nuclear Security and Beyond
Naomi Senehi: Tell me more about this Organizational Governance Template for Nuclear Security.
Jackie Kempfer: It’s been quite a few years in the making and is about to go into action. We wanted it to be an international effort to enforce an exact structure for security, but we call it a template because we recognize that each facility is different and the template should be adapted as such. It all started with looking for ways to incentivize nuclear security that goes above and beyond basic compliance from the NRC, in areas such as insurance and liability. For example, we held a mock trial for a mixed physical/cyber attack on a facility. Half of the trial ran without reference of the Governance Template, and the other half included it, which illuminated to us its potential purpose. It can be used as a way to illustrate that an operator has done everything reasonably practicable to uphold security. It was a great project to get me involved with the nuclear industry.
Then I found myself wanting to focus more on energy and climate change, while still being involved in nuclear security, and Susie Baker gave me the opportunity to do just that. I joined in on her project at Third Way, looking at advanced reactors & safeguards for security.
6 – (39:35) Work at Third Way
Naomi Senehi: So tell me about Third Way.
Jackie Kempfer: Third Way is a Center-Left Democrat Think Tank, with various programs like National Security, Education, etc., and I am in the Clean Energy program. It’s about 40 people, all here in DC, and 5 or 6 of us in Clean Energy, plus our outside partners. It’s very collaborative with other organizations, which is great. We support technology-inclusivity to clean energy; whatever means of energy production with zero carbon emission. The 3 main and largest areas of emissions that we look at are power, transportation, and industry. With nuclear, it’s a split narrative: we need to evaluate our existing fleet, as well as innovating for the future of nuclear. We’re seeing many plants undergoing premature shutdowns as a result of financial competition with natural gas. Each state handles this problem differently. Ohio, for example, has issued a new Clean Air Fund, which protects the existing fleet, but is detrimental to renewable energy sources. I believe we need an inclusive clean energy policy that does not have to boost one energy source at the cost of tearing down another. The Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (NELA) was just introduced, and I think it’s doing a lot of great work.
7 – (49:46) The Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (NELA)
Naomi Senehi: So tell me about NELA.
Jackie Kempfer: NELA poses a deadline to have 2 advanced reactor demonstration projects completed by 2025, and two additional ones by 2035, as a development to combat climate change. There are power purchase agreements with the federal government in the act, which is really a message to private investors to show that it’s a safe investment. I’m excited about it because it brings the nuclear and clean energy community together, right at the intersection of engineering and policy. I believe it also gives aspiring engineering students an exciting outlet where they can put their career energy.
8 – (53:17)
Naomi Senehi: Many people don’t see how nuclear can be used to combat climate change, don’t you think?
Jackie Kempfer: Absolutely. A hope for me is to get the clean energy “tribes” to come together more, and to see that we’re all coming from the same place. I’m doing research into how advanced nuclear can be complimentary to renewables. Until now, those two worlds have not had many opportunities to come together too often. One of our biggest struggles is thinking about how to present nuclear to people that don’t readily understand nuclear or engineering. One idea was to go to Comic Con – superheroes, Iron Man & the Simpsons, etc. For the future of nuclear, I hope to see nuclear fusion, initiatives in space evolution with nuclear to colonize Mars and beyond. The more that that kind of technology is advanced, then the more advancement can come to nuclear security policy and clean energy. I look forward to collaborative thinking across the energy spectrum.