Mary Lou Dunzik-Gougar

President

American Nuclear Society

April 28, 2021

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Ep 304: Mary Lou Dunzik-Gougar - President, American Nuclear Society
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Bret Kugelmass
So we're here today with Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar, who is the President of the American Nuclear Society and so much more in the nuclear industry. Mary Lou, I've been waiting to have you on the show for years, so, thanks, and welcome to Titans of Nuclear.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
Thanks so much for having me. This is going to be a lot of fun.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, absolutely. I think I first heard about you, I think, my first ever month of doing this when talking to Hans, and ever since you know, and we have conversations throughout the years. But it's just great to finally get the chance to have you all to myself one on one. And why don't we start as we always do with you just kind of walking us through how you got into the industry?

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
Will do. Well, I've thought a lot about that, especially since coming into this role in ANS. What kind of story do I tell about how I got here? And one thing I recognized right away was that I took a very circuitous path. That path is similar to what a lot of other people I've met in the industry have taken. I don't know if that's just because we're nuclear, but I find that people who are always looking for opportunities and take advantage of opportunities, they take curvy paths. It's not the average person who says, from day one, I want to do this, so I'm going to go straight line, I'm going to get there. So I grew up 30 miles from TMI and in 1979, at the time of the accident at TMI, I wasn't-

Bret Kugelmass
Three Mile Island. We're gonna spell that out just for our non-nuclear people. Three Mile Island.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
Yes, thank you. Sorry about that. I grew up 30 miles and Three Mile Island. At the time of the accident, in the spring of 1979, I was in high school, and 30 miles away. At that point in my life, I don't think that I really had the word nuclear in my vocabulary. So, I know that I can trace back exactly that, Oh, yeah, it was this time at this point in my life that I got the nuclear bug, but certainly, that accident, raised my awareness of what nuclear was because it was everywhere. People were talking about it, it was in the news. It just planted the seed, if you will, for me. After that, I was always a nerdily good student. I went off to college at a little school, private - I learned to say, not a girl school, but a women's college - called Cedar Crest college where I thought - I had this idea, I don't know why - I was gonna be a nuclear medical technician. I had no idea what that was. And then when I realized it was a lot of biology, I said, Oh, I don't like this. So, I changed to chemistry, ended up teaching chemistry, but still had this bug for nuclear. So after teaching high school for seven years, which I did in the US and the UK, and of course, I always managed to get nuclear into my chemistry classes. When I was living in the UK and teaching at a boarding school, I took one of my physics classes on the field trip to Sellafield, which is the fuel processing facility in the UK.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, I've been there.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
So I always had that sort of nuclear angle. It was during the time that I was at the school in England, called TASIS, that I met the person who is now my husband. He was a fellow science teacher, and we just got to be buds. So here we are, came back to US together and wanted to go to school together.

Bret Kugelmass
Awesome. And what brought you out to England to begin with?

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
I was first teaching in Southern Maryland. I was in my 20s, I had the travel bug and I thought, if I continue being a teacher, with the kind of salaries teachers are, I'm not going to go anywhere fast, right? So I started looking at other ideas. And then I learned that there are these American high schools that are spread all around the world. I had known about that before, I knew they were Department of Defense schools, all around the world. But there are American curriculum high schools all over the world. People will send their kids there in to get them prepared to go to American universities.

Bret Kugelmass
Hmm. So, as I understand, a lot of these were set up, let's say, for ambassadors kids and stuff, but then they also let in a lot of the local people as well, but they do specialty applications and stuff.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
The one where I taught in England, it was a standard high school curriculum - we were actually K through 12, but the boarding community was only the high school - and we had kids from all over the world. We had European, we had American kids whose parents were living and working overseas, we had kids from Asia, from Africa. So, it really was an international community. The reasons vary. There were people working for the government or companies that were internationally based, or, in large case, like the Asian students, their goal was to get really good at English and then go to an American University. So, in any case, I was working and teaching there, got engaged to Hans Gougar, who is now my husband. We came back to the US and we wanted to go to graduate school. I had always thought about the nuclear thing. And it's funny, if you ask him, he'll give me credit for the fact that he's now a nuclear engineer.

Bret Kugelmass
He did. He was one of the first Titans, I still remember it, he did give you credit.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
He said, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. The more I listened to him, the more I said to him, You know, I think you want to be a nuclear engineer. And I really meant it. So, long story short, we went to school together at Penn State. Our objective was to get Master's degrees and then go on into new careers outside of teaching. And that's when Dr. Arthur Motta, still at Penn State, approached me and said, Hey, Mary Lou. Basically, there was this scholarship for PhD that he thought, I think you could get this and we would support you to do this. And, you know, at that point in my life, I've been learning what research was, I hadn't really known what research is, and a lot of people don't. When you say the word research, so many people think, Oh, you're going to the library, you're reading documents. No, that's not research, that's a literature review. Research is creating new content, new information, but I was learning that. But I still didn't quite understand what PhDs were all about and my limited experience was, they're pretty much over-educated eggheads. I thought, yeah, I'm not so sure I want to go there. The more I thought about, the more I thought, if I don't try this, I'm gonna regret it for the rest of my life. I can't just not try it. So, that's what I did, applied for the scholarship and got it.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
Awesome. And what was the specialty in? What did you do your thesis in?

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
Both my Master's and my PhD focused on radioactive waste management. When I went back to school, I had that chemistry background, and I thought, what a great combination of interests, chemistry and nuclear and a focus on radioactive waste. My Master's degree was actually in environmental science, I was focusing on the waste aspect. I developed a waste form, the actual form that you would dispose, for some of the wastes from reprocessing fuel out here in Idaho. And that was long before I actually came to Idaho.

Bret Kugelmass
And what was the form? What was the form?

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
What they've done over the years at Idaho, when they were processing used fuel, for example, they would dissolve it in acid and then basically, anything that wasn't the uranium or plutonium, got put into what's called a calciner, it's a big furnace that rotates and heats it up so that anything volatile goes out and what's left is this dry powder. It's marginally radioactive, depending on the field it came from. They have these bins of calcine. And so the idea was, What's a long term form for this calcine and that could be disposed. I worked with a scientist at what was then the INEEL and he was all about cementitious waste forms.

Bret Kugelmass
Cement? Is that the same root word of cement?

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
It is, but cementitious kind of refers to the type of chemistry. We were creating a sort of cement, but we were using various materials that we chose in the relative quantities to maximize the waste loading, the amount of calcine we could put in there, and that performance, and we did leach testing and strength testing and all of that. So, compared, Okay, here's the results I got from my leach testing and my compressive strength testing, and that compares to this and that standard, so this would be an acceptable waste form.

Bret Kugelmass
Cool. What are some of the advantages of these cementitious forms? Is it that they are resistant to like groundwater intrusion? And, and further volatilization of the captured radionuclides?

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
Each type of waste has an optimal waste form. The cements are good for a number of things. They're very inexpensive. They're low temperature processing, which makes a difference in in application.

Bret Kugelmass
And by low temperature processing, do we mean like, a few 100 degrees Fahrenheit as opposed to a few 1000 degrees?

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
Exactly, yeah. I mean, I did very limited thermal processing of my little waste forms, you know, yeah, maybe a couple 100 degrees. But that's not even necessary in all cases. But then you think about, for example, vitrified waste, in other words, putting waste into a glass, and that's, you know, hundreds of times more temperature, and it's really high energy input to keep all of that material molten, to keep it not getting too viscous. It's a high energy and high maintenance procedure. And it isn't necessary for these lower levels of waste. The other thing that you can do with the cementitious waste form is you can use types of materials. There are certain chemical phases in cement. And something I learned, at first when my advisor said, you're gonna work on the submitted waste form, and I thought, seriously, cement that is not exciting, and I started reading about it and cement is fascinating.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, it's only the most produced material by mankind ever.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
And it's, it's chemistry changes from the time you make it until, I don't know 15 years later, it's chemistry constantly changes. Part of what I did as a research paper, my very first published journal article, - I was very proud of it - I did a study, there are these chemical phases and this is gonna sound like, What did you just say? There's nothing egos in that, but I did a paper entitled "Radioactive waste immobilization in the CSH and Etrringite phases of cement". Now, CSH and Ettringite are phases of the chemical forms that take place in chemistry and they are crystalline. And there are many waste ions, ions that are produced as fission products, or activation products, that will fit into the structure of those two. So, not only you have like this broad matrix of the cement to protect the waste from water and whatever, but you got chemical bonding between the actual waste ions in these chemical forms within the cement.

Bret Kugelmass
I see. So, what you're saying is, as the radioactive waste evolves over time, which it does, it's literally, slowly decaying, slowly transmuting, and it's popping out new chemical isotopes over time, that there's almost like pre built-in slots, chemical slots for them to grab a hold of in the cement. So it's not it's not just that the first process that you're doing, but the cement actually allows for this to be a continuous sequesteration of these of these isotopes over time.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
That's it. That's a great summary.

Bret Kugelmass
Cool. Okay. Oh god, there's so much we have to go through, such an exciting career, I've got to make sure we move on.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
Go for it. So that was my Master's work. And we would spend just as much time on my PhD work, but let's go on to more interesting things.

Bret Kugelmass
How did you get out to Idaho?

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
We met, Hans and I, I think it was at an ANS meeting, somebody from what was then Argonne National Lab West. And now that's become part of the combined Idaho National Lab. But But this person we met said, You should apply for summer internships. So Hans and I both applied. And so the summer after I defended my master's thesis, we were there for a summer. And my objective was looking for a PhD project during my internship. And it so happened that came to fruition. Because I had the fellowship, we spent a summer there. It's the summer that my son turned one. So he was my Master's baby, and my daughter is my PhD baby. We spent a summer there, I made some connections, went back to Penn State for a semester to finish things up there. And then in January, following that summer, we moved here. So I went full time as a PhD student. and then Hans got a job at then INEEL. We both kept plugging away at our PhDs.

Bret Kugelmass
Cool. Then what did that transform into? So, you get your PhD, and now it's time to actually enter the real world? Kind of, I guess, if you stayed in academic research?

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
You know, it's funny. I had this idea that I had enough teaching, been there done that, I want to do something different. And I have this very vivid memory, it's sort of like this scene in time that that kind of sealed my fate or something like that. I was attending an ANS meeting in Washington, DC. and there's this Irish pub right across the street. I went there with Hans and our mutual friend, Michael Lineberry, who unfortunately is no longer with us, but he was a scientist at Argonne West. He also was, he retired from there, and he was head of the nuclear engineering department at Idaho State University. So I'm sitting there between the two of them at the bar and what evolved was them talking about me kind of back and forth over my head. And so I'm watching tennis, and I'm going back and forth, listening to what they're saying. And Michael, saying, Oh, yeah, you know, she'd be great for this job at ISU, and it's a joint deployment with a lab and she could help us grow our undergraduate program and do research and design. Yeah, yeah, that'd be great. I mean, they just were planning my entire future. I said, Excuse me. Do I have any input in this?

Bret Kugelmass
Hello, I'm here.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
Exactly. Long story short, I interviewed for the job that Michael was describing. It was a joint appointment between the lab the newly formed - well, it was in the process of forming at that time, Idaho National Lab and University - and they were exactly right. I love my job. It was the right fit for me.

Bret Kugelmass
Cool, and what kind of stuff do you get to do?

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
Well, at the beginning, it was awkward. I had literally two bosses, two offices, two phones. It kind of pulled me literally in two different directions. But in the early days in my joint appointment, what evolved was, I was given the reins of a project, I was just to be the assistant for this project for a scientist there, Kemal Pasamehmetoglu - I believe I said his name correctly - and he's still there, very active. He was leading what they call at the lab, and LDRD, Lab Directed... research directed projects, something like that - I forget what the other letters stand for - but basically, it's money within the lab that's awarded for research ideas, as opposed to coming from the national level. And this was a project to model the entire fuel cycle on a very scientific basis. Big project, right? He was the lead, I was his assistant, we had partners from big universities, other national labs, MIT, University of Wisconsin. We, going forward, were, I thought, making really good progress. We developed this animal, this model called CINEMA, and we came up with this - it was an acronym, which I can't remember anymore - but really, there was a good reason for all those letters, but it was the entire fuel cycle. Now, what evolved over time was that Kemal was getting greater and greater responsibilities and he needed to step away. In fact, we even had this workshop scheduled, we were meeting in Salt Lake City. I was there, all the people had come in from all over the US and Kemal phones me and said, I can't make it. Like he said, you run the meeting. So from then on, basically, I ran the project. And it was great. Of course, I appreciated the confidence he had in me to do that. And it was, I think, ultimately a really productive project. It was adopted then, sort of was spread across- Wisconsin did a lot of continuation of that work, but also within the INL, they did continue to do a lot of fuel cycle modeling kind of based on that foundation. So I felt really good about that project and all the people who participated. My joint appointment kind of had a little hiccup in it, when my husband got an offer to work for PBMR Limited in South Africa.

Bret Kugelmass
And PBMR. That's the pebble bed modular reactor or pebble bed- Okay, got it.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
Yeah. So the company name really was just the letters, sort of like Philadelphia Electric Company went to PECO, right. Yes, that's originally what it stood for, pebble bed modular reactor. And this company in South Africa had literally bought the technology, the intellectual property from Germany, because they had built an operating reactor like this, but-

Bret Kugelmass
These are graphite-based reactors. graphite is the moderator?

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
Graphite moderator, gas cooled and particle fuel.

Bret Kugelmass
Similar to the TRISO stuff that we hear about today?

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
Exactly, yes. The Germans did it first. And they did it well.

Bret Kugelmass
The Germans, you know, great engineers, but their political and environmental decisions as of late have been disastrous.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
Yeah, I know, it's in a strange dichotomy, isn't it?

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, it's a shame, really.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
Anyway, without going too deep into the technology, it really is a genius technology, because these reactors are passively safe, they've got this big reactor core, so you don't need active cooling and shut down and the heat dissipates. The fuel is very robust. and Hans had done his PhD project on that topic with modeling the pebble flow through the core. Plus, he had worked in the area of high temperature gas-cooled reactors at the lab.

Bret Kugelmass
When you say pebble flow through the core, can you actually break that down for a second? Does this mean that the pebbles are actually moving during the life of the reactor, that they're changing their geometric position with respect to each other?

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
Yeah, it's a little bit bizarre and I kind of joke that the average nuclear engineer does not like their core to move. Like, no, don't do that. But the beauty of the pebble bed is consider, let's say, very simplistically, we build a funnel out of graphite. Okay. And in the middle, we have a cylinder of graphite. And then we have this open annulus like a doughnut, like a tall doughnut, we put the form that the fuel these little particles in a matrix of more graphite, that shaped in a pebble about the size of a tennis ball, and this angular area is filled up with those pebbles. Now the beauty is that you you start this thing up, and over time - and it's a slow process, it's not like a gumball machine - but over time, a pebble will drop out the bottom, It'll real time be analyzed to see if there's life left in it. If there isn't, it goes to the way of the dodo pebbles. If there's more energy left, goes back to the top. And so you have constant inline refueling, you get maximum burn up. It's brilliant.

Bret Kugelmass
And you never have to turn it off. You can just add more pebbles to the top whenever you want.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
Exactly.

Bret Kugelmass
That's cool. That's really cool.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
So that was design. The South Africans had some international partners and their plan was they're going to design the next generation one of these, it's going to be modular, and they're going to sell it around the world. And it was a great plan.

Bret Kugelmass
What would be the power output of this?

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
I think this the ones they were talking about were on the order of a few 100, maybe 500 megawatts. So you know, certainly smaller than our big 1000 or 1200 megawatt plants.

Bret Kugelmass
Yep. But still pretty decent size.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
I think we all realized that those 1000 and 1200 megawatt plants, when they first came along, they flooded the grid. That's a lot of energy at one time. And so going forward, especially for smaller developing areas, you don't want such a big plant, because there just isn't the capacity for it. There isn't the infrastructure for it.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, the grid infrastructure to actually offload all those electrons are producing.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
Exactly, yeah. So unfortunately, economically, especially because of the economic collapse in 2008 - because we were there from 2007 to 2009 - the economic collapse really hit PBMR. After we left and came back to the US, they sort of had to shut down just try to maintain the intellectual property. Most of the people who worked there have kind of dispersed. Some of them are now working for the company X-energy here in the US, which my husband now works for.

Bret Kugelmass
Cool. I didn't realize that he went over there. Okay. Congrats to him.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
He's having a great time. They're working on developing reactors with the Department of Defense, a micro reactor, and then with the Department of Energy, a small modular reactor.

Bret Kugelmass
Cool. These micro reactors that are pebble bed based, is it hard to maintain the proper criticality and more constrained area? Do you have to increase enrichment to do that?

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
So you know, he can't tell me the details of that design, he'd have to kill me. You know how that is.

Bret Kugelmass
But we know you know on your own, we don't even have to hear from him. We know you know what you're talking about.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
Right? Exactly. So the the military has put out specifications. They want it for quick remote deployment, quick up to power, quick decommissioning and get it out of there. You know, right now, what they have to do is they have to basically take diesel generators to-

Bret Kugelmass
I know it's a disaster. It's like half of all the deaths from our wars overseas, recent wars overseas, are from just transporting fuel or something crazy like that.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
Yeah, tankers of diesel fuel. It's crazy. So they're saying, okay, here are the parameters, they want the components to be in a certain number of those cargo containers that can go on a cargo plane. As I understand it, one of the qualifications is this is pretty much a closed core. So this one is not a pebble bed. Okay. But it does have some similar features to some of those other reactors, but it's more of a closed core so that you wouldn't need to do real time refueling. It's very self-contained and kind of dummy proof, if you will, you know, for remote deployment.

Bret Kugelmass
Got it. So, how did you end up getting involved in ANS? That's another big area of your life?

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
So, when we came back from the UK, we were married within a couple of months of returning, and we decided, Okay, we need to work a little bit. We need to make sure that if we're going back to school full time, you don't have a lot of debt. Plus, we wanted the in-state tuition rate for Hans at Penn State. I was already a Penn State native, we wanted to get in-state for him, so we work for two years. And I had heard of this job. So, back up a little bit. As a high school science teacher, I heard of this summer workshop at Penn State that taught the teachers how to teach nuclear science. And it was two week long, we lived in the dorms, we went to class for like four hours in the morning, we had lab four hours in the afternoon. And one of the people who was mostly responsible for conducting this was a woman named Candace Davison. She's still there. And from that day, she has been one of my best friends. But she knew me, we got to know each other and she kind of led me on as I was in the UK that hey, there's this job. Philadelphia Electric Company has a contract with Penn State, so that people are paid by Penn State to go around the communities around the Limerick and Peach Bottom power plants that are kind of suburban Philadelphia and just talk nuclear. You know, go to Lions Club, go to the Optimist Club, go to the local high schools, whatever, wherever. And talk about nuclear. Yeah, I thought that sounds really cool.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah. And it really smart move for the industry also, to actually do proactive, positive communication. Where did all that go?

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
I don't know what happened after I left. I did that for a year. It was a great job. I learned a lot. I got to help give tours of Limerick, you know, did some scouting stuff at Peach Bottom.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, I mean, listen, the best way to create nuclear advocates out of the public is to give them a tour of a facility. I mean, this has been proven in Switzerland, and France, where they had like country wide programs to do this. And when they stopped, the public kind of turned against it. But when they were doing it, it was super popular. And here, too, I've heard stories about when just tours used to be easier of nuclear facilities, people like them more.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
Yeah, before 9/11, they were like every day.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah. And god, I don't know why that should have stopped it.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
I'll tell you what, I just I was talking yesterday, to the Penn State student section of ANS, and one of them mentioned that they had just had a tour of a Pennsylvania power plant. And I said, really? COVID? And somehow they managed it. But we got to talking and I said, You know, I remember - and it was through this job I just mentioned - the first time I toured a power plant, I was awe struck. I mean, just the scale, the power, the professionalism of the people, how clean everything is. I mean, you could eat lunch off the turbine hall floor.

Bret Kugelmass
Oh, I know. The turbine halls are amazing, right? They're clean. They're big compared to a human body, but they're tiny compared to the fact that they're powering a million person city.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
Yeah. Just the energy density, they're kind of vibrating. So cool.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah. That's so cool.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
I want to follow up on something you just said there. Because you said giving tours is one of the best ways to really get the public buy in or or help allay concerns. And I agree, it's such an important thing. But let's face it, like how many average public people are going to be able to do that? Not many. So one thing that I've been working on with ANS - and I'm really excited about because of my history in the classroom - we have these curriculum materials we've been developing. So a few years ago, ANS partnered with this company called Discovery Education. And they're actually an offshoot of the Discovery Channel. They produce these really high quality curriculum materials. So, ANS said, yeah, we want to do this because, let's face it, we've been bumping along for years, everybody kind of doing their own thing. There's no consistent, high quality material available. So we raised money externally. And then we eventually partnered with the Department of Energy's and they help with the development and funding. But we as of the first week in May, we will have completed all the materials for all three levels elementary, middle and high school and they are really good.

Bret Kugelmass
These when you say materials, what is this? Is this what I think it is, a virtual tour of a power plant?

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
So let me tell you, so we have three levels, as I said. Each level has digital lesson plans. Guidance for teachers, activities for students. There are STEM project starters. There are career profiles, so people, like everyday people, talking about here's what I do, and here's why and how it works kind of thing. So you humanizing the field, and then yes, virtual field trips. And that goes back to, Okay, not every person can go to a power plant. But we have a virtual field trip to a power plant, a virtual field trip to a National Lab, and the new one coming out in May is a virtual field trip to NASA, and facilities that do research for NASA. And there's no way that the average student would get to go any of those places, right? Yeah. And we have gotten such great feedback so far from the teachers who have used the materials even.

Bret Kugelmass
And how does that work? Do you have to mail them like 20 headsets, VR headsets or something to get them incorporated?

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
So that's the brilliant part about it. So I mentioned that we raised the money, and that was because we didn't want our materials behind the Discovery Education paywall, because they have a paywall, they're a business, and school districts will subscribe to them. And then teachers can access the materials. We said, No, we want them freely available. So you can download everything, or just, you know, look at it online, navigatingnuclear.com which is the name of the materials navigating you here. And you can even get to it through the ANS web page. So again, really high quality material. Once we get this last little bit of material done, and I've been engaged at every stage. Just earlier today, it was reviewing some of the animations for this last bit for the field trip. And to me, it's such a great return on the investment of my time, because this is going to reach so many people. Once we get that last bit out there. Our next phase is, let's get it to as many classrooms as possible. When I talk with the local and student sections of ANS, one of the things I say is, look, we're all either in training, or we are nuclear technical professionals. So we have limited time. And if we want to do outreach, we kind of have to be choosy. So if you're looking for the best return on the investment of your time, what you can do is empower a teacher. And it's this material.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, cuz they're like a multiplier because they not only have a classroom full of 20 or 30 eager young, curious students, but every single year, they've got a new batch.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
Exactly. They're going to reach 1000s of students in their careers and they teach kids every day. I personally saw what an impact you can have as a high school teacher, it scared me a little. Oh, I don't want that responsibility. So, if you just spend that time to help a teacher be a technical resource. Wow. And think about, okay, right now, I think it's fair to say the average person in the US, when you see the word nuclear or radiation, their minds have some sort of negative image. It may not be strong, at best, it's neutral. And you could probably trace, as we are emotional beings, most of our responses can be traced back to impressions from really young ages. So, what if the next generation of people graduating from high school, instead of automatic negative when they hear radiation and nuclear, they think, Oh, yeah, we did that really cool project in middle school and did a Mars settlement powered by nuclear and so on.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, I know, there's such a missed opportunity. I don't know if you watched much Star Trek, but I certainly did as a kid. When you see their reactor, it's glowing, okay, but it's not glowing in a bad way. It's going in a really cool way. And everyone knows it's the heart of the ship. Smart people are working on it. I don't know, it's just, I think it's such a positive image about like, reactors and what reactors could be. Okay, so that's an anti-matter reactor, whatever. Okay, so fine, let's make it a fission reactor, but just let's just do whatever Star Trek did.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
Speaking of science fiction, we've been getting feedback from the teachers using these curriculum materials. There was a middle school teacher who said, Hey, about half the kids in my class, if they graduate from high school, it'll be the first generation of their families that graduate from high school. When she did these materials, they were so excited. And they told her, we thought nuclear was science fiction. They didn't know it was real. And now they had this whole new world open to them just because of this material.

Bret Kugelmass
I mean, it is kind of science fiction. I just have no doubt in my mind. If we don't get nuclear right in the next couple decades, which hopefully we do - and I'm trying my best to make sure that's a reality also - 100 years from now, any future civilization will come back to it and be like, yes, this is the future technology energy source that we're going to run everything off of.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
I have some thoughts on that. So if you think about pre-Industrial Revolution, when we powered everything with wood and animal dung, quality of life is pretty low.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
When when we went into the Industrial Revolution, and we started into these higher energy density fossil fuels, the standard of living really increased. The next logical progression, human progression, is to even more energy dense fuel. And what concerns me is the push right now to go to Oh, bio this and solar and wind, which is exactly backward.

Bret Kugelmass
Less energy dense. Yeah, but, I think a lot of that comes from- I've been talking to some other advocates and people in the space, a lot of that comes from an almost anti-human perspective, like a lot of the people who push towards that they also have their roots in not wanting to see human flourishing, not wanting to see, you know, more people coming up to like American standards of living like they don't want it, and that's kind of tied to these low energy return to nature low, which is not really return to nature, and low energy density sources. It's all tied together.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
It really is. There are a lot of interesting resources out there, in particular a book by Richard Rhodes that was published in 2018 and he delved into this issue showing that, during the 1960s and 70s environmental movement, there was this kind of absorbed premise that the natural world is good. Changing the natural world is bad and because humans change the natural world, humans are bad, just a total guilt trip, right? And so you take that premise, and then you consider on the other hand, we know that humans thrive when we have abundant energy and over here, environmentalists are saying humans are bad. We need fewer. It's almost like they're saying humans shouldn't drive. I mean, that's fundamentally anti-human.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah. And it comes from a place of too much privilege, never having to be hungry. That's where this comes from.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
I've been saying that, too. And I admit, it sounds a little snarky, but I say, you know what, in the US and like Western Europe, we are so relatively wealthy, we're so spoiled, that we have the opportunity right now to make stupid choices. Yeah. Because we don't have to right away see the consequences, we don't understand what it's like to be without, like so many other places on the earth. And so if we make the choice to, let's say, shut down, fossil, go wind and solar, a number of things are going to happen, that are going to be really harsh lessons. First of all, we're gonna lose a whole bunch of electricity, we're gonna lose those jobs, that whole infrastructure, it's going to really impact our economy. Next, we don't have the infrastructure to make wind and solar panels. It's all in Asia. So we're gonna send all the money that we do have left to Asia, they're gonna burn fossil fuels to make our wind and solar panels that are likely to burn diesel to bring it back across the Pacific Ocean. And what have we gained? We will trash our economy and if you're concerned about CO2 emissions, well, we just increased them.

Bret Kugelmass
I know. It's crazy. What I think is even worse is when we kind of take these values and then push them on other people too. When Germany has their set of - what I consider to be anti-human, quote, unquote, environmental values - and they force other European Union countries, they do things to make nuclear harder to access, like cut them out of the European Development Bank, funding streams and that type of stuff. When they've got, you know, there are other countries that aren't as well off as Germany, and Germany is you bringing them down to push their values on them? That's just in the microcosm of Europe. But you know, in the US, you know, to a certain extent, not as bad but we kind of do that, too, when we make nuclear harder for other countries to access through whatever ways we do that. You know, like, we're not doing them any favors.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
Yeah, there are a lot of challenges with that technology export aspect. And I understand - I mean, it's not my area of expertise - but I understand that one aspect of some of the new small modular reactor designs is kind of incorporating up front the idea of exporting so that you those hurdles are kind of addressed in the design phase, which is a nice change.

Bret Kugelmass
I think it's smart. Decriminalizing nuclear. This is a topic that I know you're passionate about, and when I say decriminalizing, I mean the thought of what nuclear is, not that it's actually criminal, but just how people treat it and how people think about it. What are your thoughts on how to deal with that?

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
I think, again, we can sort of, in some regard, trace the criminalization of nuclear, again, back to the early days of when nuclear was being born, the industry was being born worldwide, in the 60s and 70s. And it was at that same time, as I said, that that sort of anti-human flourishing mentalities steeped into the environmental groups. And on some level, I think what happened was, the environmental groups said, Uh-oh, this is going to be a really good power source. And that means more population density. You know, there was a quote from one of the Sierra Club executives from that time period, and he said, Well, more power plants create more population density. And I thought, Yeah, what's your point? And he'd say, that's a bad thing. I said, Wait, no, it's not a bad thing. So, you know, they actually had a deliberate campaign against nuclear. Again, there are quotes to back this up, that set out to stress hazards, quote, unquote, of nuclear, so there will be increased regulation, and therefore increased cost.

Bret Kugelmass
And it worked. They were successful. They made nuclear written into law more hazardous than the reality actually shows that it is. And this is what's crazy, though, because it's very hard to argue - I'm even struggling, and all I do is talk about this kind of stuff - but I have trouble arguing with people when it comes to the fact that they point to something like the International Commission on Radiological Protection to say, listen, these are the standards that the radiation protection officials are saying, what do you not want me to follow their standards? And then, What do I say? Well, their standards are wrong, their standards exaggerate the hazards of radiation by many orders of magnitude. But that's like a losing argument, because you're arguing with like, the official international standard setting bodies. So, what do we do? Well, what would you do about that?

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
Yeah, so I have learned a lot about that particular issue. And I do feel firmly that those campaigns were largely successful to increase the regulatory basis. But what is the regulatory basis? Well, from the 1970s, because of the limited computational capability, we had a limited knowledge, we had a blow dose radiation effects. Those regulations were very deterministic. In other words, no, we're just gonna set these limits. And you have to stay within them. And they weren't always based on or associated with any risk. So a lot of those deterministic regulations? Well, I think about, why do we need a nuclear grade this or that, right? Why, why can't we use the same stuff that coal or natural gas uses? I think it all boils down to dose again, because you say, Oh, you don't want a system to fail, because then you could have a leak, and then it would be-

Bret Kugelmass
When you say dose, you mean dose of radiation exposure? That's what you mean by dose?

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
Dose of radiation, exactly. And, you know, the current theory or hypothesis, it's a regulatory construct, this linear no-threshold hypothesis. And basically, what they did was they looked at the data that we had at the time, which was really high dose limits for things like the Japanese bomb survivors. And let's just draw a line from there down to zero, straight line. It's not founded. In fact, we have so much data now that shows that it's not a linear relationship. Now, you can cherry pick data, you can find data that shows it's linear, you can find data that shows it's beneficial to low doses, or it's even worse at low doses. But the bottom line is LNT is not substantiated.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, but what's even worse, though, is then the the anti-nuclear people - and I consider a lot of radiation protection officials anti-nuclear - and that they then say, Okay, well, we're seeing a lot of different datasets. Some of them you might be right, but either way, while there's confusion, better safe than sorry, that's what they say, better safe than sorry. So for regulatory purposes, even if low dose doesn't have an impact, we are going to advise that the regulatory bodies consider that it does have an impact.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
Right. And, you know, I have talked with a lot of people in this business in the last year and a half because I wanted to learn. I was definitely in the camp of "I hate LNT" and I know enough to be dangerous. Well, I still hate LNT, but I know a lot more now. And I agree with what you just said, that those doses could be much higher. But how do you do that with public perception considerations? Right? If people see, Oh, you're raising the dose limit, what, are you not going to keep me safe anymore?

Bret Kugelmass
I don't know. The problem is I know the opposite. When Japan lowered their limits after Fukushima, it made people more scared of it. Now, I'm not saying raising them makes people less scared of it. Because you know, people are obviously going to then you know, yell and say, Oh, you're in the bed with the industry, and you're trying to make us less safe. But I think we should raise the limits, and then the people who do so just need to be tough, and they need to be confident in themselves. And they need to be able to communicate why they did it, and treat the opposing party like adults, treat the concerned public like adults and explain it to them, instead of just cowering in fear and saying, Okay, you're scared, we're so sorry, we're just gonna lower it again.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
Yeah, you're exactly right. Communication is key. Above and beyond anything else, communication is key. And if we learned nothing else about nuclear from the Fukushima accident, it was that the communication from the authorities was not good. They evacuated over 100,000 people. There were almost on the order of 2000 deaths just because of the evacuation. Now, they evacuated those people to avoid doses in the hundreds to 1000s for a year. And that's in the background of most people, right. Now, I'm not criticizing those people, because they had so much to deal with it. And meanwhile the infrastructure is being wiped out. Nonetheless, that evacuation has resulted in this lingering mental and emotional strain and fear and all of the things that happen because of that, that are so unnecessary.

Bret Kugelmass
You're not gonna criticize him, but I will. I mean, I will say outright that the Japanese nuclear regulators are responsible for 2,000 deaths. Light water reactors have never killed or hurt a single person ever and all nuclear reactors, including all accidents that have ever happened have hurt maybe 50 people total. So it's like 2,000 deaths versus maybe 50 deaths. What we have to protect against is nuclear regulators, not nuclear power plants.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
It's tough. I share your passion, like you think that was so unnecessary. And why did you have to do that to these vulnerable people? Okay, so I do this comparison. There was this great article published in 2020. A radiation oncologist named Tony Brooks. I met him. The last travel I did in 2020 was in January. I went to Lisbon, Portugal for this meeting, an international meeting on reasonableness in dose. So, you know, as low as reasonably achievable, ALARA. Tony Brooks was there, he's part of the US group. All the people in that group are so knowledgeable, and I learned so much. But he wrote this paper, he compares what happened in 1953 during the Dirty Harry weapons testing in Nevada, or New Mexico, and 2011 Fukushima. And he looked at, Okay, what were the dose limits, then? What were the limits for evacuation? What were the projected doses, and you go down the line, and you see all of the limits in 1953 were much higher. The limits where they kind of were very similar was, What if we don't evaluate, what will the doses be? And they were about the same. The difference was in 1953, they didn't evacuate. In 2011, they did. The repercussions were obvious. That mental change, the fear of radiation really is pervasive, it's unfortunate. One thing I think we can do, you know, going back to the K to 12, education got to start there. It's a long term investment, but you've got to go there. That's where young people develop their impressions that lasts a lifetime. Can't change their minds when they're 18.

Bret Kugelmass
Hopefully, still at 18, maybe not at 30.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
I don't know at 18, I was pretty stubborn. Anyway. The other thing we can do is, it's gonna be a multi-year multi-government process to come up with a different model other than LNT, and that's a huge can of worms. So, I recognize that'll be a big undertaking. However, right now, within our own community, we can be pushing on, Look, is the way we interpret and implement ALARA, is that reasonable? Why do we put all these resources into getting our person dose down to single digits when there's absolutely no benefit?

Bret Kugelmass
I know,

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
I think we owe it to ourselves within just our nuclear community to keep asking that question, Is this reasonable.

Bret Kugelmass
But the problem that I've found - so I've gone around and talked to so many hundreds of people, and with so many organizations - the problem that I found is the nuclear industry, for the large part, except for people like you who are a little bit outside the industry - you're more academic, more research focused, just looking for the facts - a lot of the nuclear industry today, because the developers have died off so many years ago, their entire business model is around protecting against those extremely low levels. So most of them are bought in to this idea that very low levels of radiation are extremely harmful. And their businesses, the incentives behind the businesses themselves, are to exaggerate the risks and keep selling their safety systems, their protection systems, their analysis of power plants, so I think it's a hard ask to actually even convince the nuclear industry to change their minds about this.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
You're exactly right. I mean, there are businesses, there are career paths that are built entirely around this minimizing dose aspect. Having said that, most people in that business that I have met - and granted, I've had limited exposure to industry, and I've been more in the academic and research side - but most people I've met that area, they're willing to think and talk. But they're trained and they have regulations to follow. One thing I noticed when I was talking - and I've been kind of pushing this topic a little bit, I did a president special session on this topic, we did a webinar, and I hope to do more even after my presidency - but what I noticed was, you talk to people in the power industry, and they say, Hey, look, INPO, the Institute for Nuclear Power Operations, they rate every power plant on these different things. And one of the things they rate us on is person dose. So yeah, we have to do it. So they point at INPO. INPO points at EPA or NRC, I mean, they're all pointing the fingers at each other, right? Well, this is why we do it, you know, because this is so and so or so and so. Something I'd really like to put together and continue - because it's going to be a long time to put together - is get all of these disparate entities together in the same room. And I'm looking to do this in the form of a panel session at an ANS meeting. Now, I don't know who I can get that will be willing to talk about it. But if there are people willing to really have an intellectual discussion about it, I think we just have to start that, just get the people together, looking at each other and say, Okay, I'm from INPO, here's what we do. Yeah, but here's what we do and here's why. And just kind of boil down to what is the real issue here? And why can we not be more reasonable? It's going to be a long term process. And I think we just need to get in the harness and go, keep moving forward.

Bret Kugelmass
I love the way you think about it. Mary Lou, as we wrap up today, maybe you can just end on a note of why you think nuclear is important.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
Oh boy. Nuclear has so many applications. When I was a grad student at Penn State, I was so excited about all the things I was learning, all the applications outside of nuclear power, which in and of itself is pretty impressive. And I also realized that a lot of my fellow nuclear engineering students, we don't teach our engineering students of all of the far reaching applications of nuclear, like uses of radiation and so on, but it's hard to imagine how far the tentacles have gone. When you look into medicine and the procedures that are not possible without the use of radioisotopes of radiation, even medications themselves. Most, something on the order of 80% of any new medication that's developed, was developed using radioisotope tracers. Material hardening like rubber, sterilization, food irradiation. I mean, go on and on. And so the exciting thing to me - oh, space travel, right, space travel - the thing that I think is so important is that we as people in the nuclear field, step back and say this is such an amazing technology. We have an easy list of really incredible benefits to talk about. We need to do that. We don't need to right away revert to, Oh, nuclear is safe. Yikes. That just, even if it's subconscious, people hear you say that think, Um, what? Why are they talking about safety? What are they trying to hide? You don't hear natural gas saying, We're safe, no, you hear them saying, oh, here are all the great benefits of powering with natural gas. So, we have that opportunity. We have an opportunity to connect with people, figure out, what are their concerns? Where are they coming from? What are their assumptions, and then show them, Hey, here's what nuclear is. So, that's something that I think is an opportunity for all of us. Because nuclear is so wonderful, why not take advantage of it? Let's teach ourselves about all these wonderful benefits and be ready to be a spokesperson when we're outside of our little nuclear echo chamber, if you will.

Bret Kugelmass
Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar, thank you so much for taking the time today. It's been awesome having you.

Mary Lou Dunzik Gougar
It's been a lot of fun. Thank you, Bret.

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