Andrew Greenop: Ph.d Nuclear Engineering Student who Understands the Importance of Nuclear Outreach
I was raised in Memphis, TN and grew up with a strong interest in the STEM field. In my undergrad, I majored in Mechanical Engineering and Mathematics. As an undergrad, I desired to learn more about clean energy technologies, so I worked on engineering projects involving renewable technology including leading a group of students to install our university’s first solar panel! For my senior project, I worked with classmates to modify an electric bike to extend its battery life using clean energy sources. I had no interest in nuclear energy at this point. My only experience with nuclear power came from watching The Simpsons and from a group project in my high school biology class on the effects of radiation from the Chernobyl accident in 1986. I would not say I was anti-nuclear, but I did not think that nuclear technology was necessary or particularly safe. I barely had any idea of how reactors worked. I also had the classic misconception that they were dangerous and regularly leaked radioactive materials. I thought of radiation as this mysterious dangerous force that caused mutations such as fish with 3-eyes or children born with missing appendages.
I did not even consider the nuclear field until a speaker named Joseph Shuster came to speak at my undergrad university. He presented his idea of the future electricity market consisting of some solar, wind, and hydro power. However, the majority of power would come from nuclear reactors. What really appealed to me was that he presented arguments other than global warming for why we needed to change our means of electricity production. Having grown up in an area where many people did not believe in global warming, I had my doubts about it at the time as well. I was interested in renewable energy technology, but these technologies just seemed interesting but not particularly necessary. They would be useful for improving air quality by replacing coal as an energy sources. However, it did not seem necessary to replace all fossil fuels since global warming was not a threat in my eyes. Instead, Joseph asserted that fossil fuels are limited resources. Global warming was a small part of his argument, but his primary argument was that we would eventually exhaust our supply of natural gas and coal. He claimed that we need to shift to energy sources we could depend on for centuries. He did say that renewable energy sources like wind and solar would be useful since they are not a limited commodity. However, due to their intermittency and limited capacity, we would still need a strong clean baseload energy source, such as nuclear. This was the first time I found an interest in nuclear energy, though it was only a passing thought. I did buy his book, but it ended up on my bookshelf unread for a couple of years.
After I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I ended up working for a mechanical engineering company that had nothing to do with nuclear or energy. However, I became unhappy with my career path and realized I wanted a change in my life. So, I chose to go to grad school. The only problem was that I did not know what to study. I remembered how interested I was in energy technology, especially in clean energy. So, I finally read Joseph’s book. For the first time, I read that nuclear reactors were not only energy intensive but also safe. I then started to research about reactor technologies from other sources. As I read more about nuclear power, I learned that nuclear reactors generally were not dangerous, that the negative effects of low-level radiation were greatly exaggerated, and that nuclear energy was a clean energy source. By this time, I had accepted that global warming was a major issue and that we needed carbon free energy sources. I decided that I was going to learn more about nuclear reactors since they were a source of clean energy. My goal is eventually to help design advanced reactor that would produce dependable carbon-free electricity for future generations.
~ However, it does not matter how safe and efficient the technology is if the public fears nuclear reactors. ~
Thank you Environmental Progress and Michael Shellenberger for organizing the March for Environmental Hope
I ended up enrolling in UC Berkeley’s Nuclear Engineering PhD program. At Berkeley, I spent the first couple of years learning more about the more technical side of nuclear power. I learned more about radiation and its effect on the body. I learned how nuclear reactors are designed and built. I learned about all of the safety systems incorporated into their design. Then, during the summer between my 2nd and 3rd year of grad school, PG&E announced that they wanted to close Diablo Canyon, California’s last nuclear power plant. A few other students and I met pro-nuclear environmentalists Michael Shellenberger and Eric Meyer. They organized and led a protest through the streets of Oakland and San Francisco in protest against anti-nuclear groups Sierra Club and Greenpeace, who had lobbied for the shutdown of Diablo Canyon. We also marched against the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), an organization that was more directly responsible for the decision to shut down Diablo Canyon. I had never been a part of any protest before, especially a pro-nuclear one. It gave me a different outlook on what the nuclear community should be doing. There has always been a focus on improving nuclear technology in the field. However, it does not matter how safe and efficient the technology is if the public fears nuclear reactors. We need to convince the public that nuclear power is necessary for us to combat climate change while still maintaining our quality of life. Michael and Eric understand this. They eventually founded pro-nuclear environment groups Environmental Progress and Generation Atomic, respectively.
~ I am currently working on a project with a former Berkeley city council member to put an initiative on the 2018 ballot to update the City of Berkeley’s 1986 Nuclear Free Zone Ordinance. ~
Since that protest, I have been more active in supporting nuclear outside of academia. For example, many of the Berkeley students who participated in the Diablo Canyon protest founded a club on campus called the Nuclear Environmental Outreach Group (NEOG). Its main focus is to educate the public about the safety and necessity of nuclear power and advocate for nuclear technology. Since that protest, I have also participated in nuclear advocacy at the federal level. For the past 2 summers, I have been a member of Nuclear Engineering Student Delegation. The delegation consists of a group of students from all over the country meeting in Washington D.C. to advocate for nuclear technology and policy. The group of students meet with various government agencies, regulatory bodies, and think tanks to learn how nuclear policy affects the industry and research. Then, using what they have learned, the delegation meets with the staffs of various US Senators and Representatives to advocate for bills and policy that support the funding and growth of nuclear education and technology.
Bonus points: Can you spot the Andrew? Thank you Environmental Progress and Michael Schellenberger for sponsoring and organizing the Save the Nukes march.
I also participated in a second protest in Chicago with Environmental Progress. This much larger march was to protest the closing of Quad Cities and Clinton nuclear plants in Illinois. People from all over the country came to pressure Illinois to keep these sources of carbon-free electricity open. Fortunately, Illinois made the right decision, and the plants remain open. I made many new friends from all over the country who also supported more nuclear advocacy and outreach. Even though I am working to finish up my PhD, I try to stay active in advocacy and outreach for nuclear technology. I am currently working on a project with a former Berkeley city council member to put an initiative on the 2018 ballot to update the City of Berkeley’s 1986 Nuclear Free Zone Ordinance. Our hope is to update the law and change it to a Nuclear Weapons Free Ordinance and help remove the stigma the nuclear technology has gained over the years. It is taking steps like these to help the public become more accepting of nuclear, which will in turn help us to reduce CO2 production and combat climate change.
tl;dr: Andrew found his passion in nuclear first as a technology that could replace fossil fuels as they run out, then as a means of combating climate change, and finally as an important political issue he is taking a stand for. His story is a great demonstration of what it means to be apart of the pro-nuclear movement: working on the technology, the policy, and taking to the streets marching for a technology that could make the world a better place.