Amanda Lang describes North American Young Generation in Nuclear (NAYGN), her background in the industry, and women in STEM.
[00:00:00] Amanda Lang: to me it traces back to you want energy for your kids, right? You want them to have access. Energy unlocks so many possibilities. But also if you think about gender equality uh, electricity is huge for that, right? If, if you look at who is hand washing clothes right now, when they don’t have access to electricity, typically falls on females, right? Also access to education and other possibilities.
So to me, you want electricity and energy.
Just because the facts are A, if the narrative is B and everyone believes the narrative, then B is what matters. But it’s our job in our industry to speak up proudly Soberly. And to engage people in this dialogue, those two and a half billion people that are on energy poverty, they need us. America cannot meet this threat alone.
If there is a single country, of course, the world cannot meet it without America that is willing to, we’re gonna need you the next generation to finish the job. Nuclear regulations, we need scientists to design new fuels, focus on net public benefits. We need engineers to invent new technologies for over absurd levels of radiation production entrepreneurs to sell those technologies.
And we’ll march towards this. We need workers to. With High Tech Zero Prosperity Football, diplomats, businessmen, and women and Peace Corps volunteers to help developing nations skip the development transition sources of, in other words, we need you.
[00:01:35] Mark Hinaman: Okay. Welcome to another episode of the Fire2Fission podcast. My name is Mark Hinaman and I’m joined today by Amanda Lang. She’s the president of NAYGN, which is North American Young Generation in Nuclear. Amanda, how you doing? We’re stoked to talk, talk to you.
[00:01:49] Amanda Lang: Thanks for having me, mark.
[00:01:51] Mark Hinaman: Yeah, this, this is gonna be a fun conversation.
I can tell we chat a little bit before we started recording and hope, hope to keep this natural and fun. So, I wanna talk about NAYGN and what it is in your role there, but you’re, you’re also a
[00:02:01] Amanda Lang: a senior product analyst at Duke Energy. So, my career, I’ve been in the nuclear industry nine and a half years, almost 10.
And my bachelor’s and master’s in is in nuclear engineering. And so, Was a core design engineer, so designing the reactor fuel for about eight years and then recently transitioned into more of a, an analyst role looking at the broader energy portfolio at Duke Energy.
[00:02:28] Mark Hinaman: That’s awesome. Did you do a concurrent Bachelor’s, masters?
[00:02:31] Amanda Lang: Yes, yes. So I went to University of Wisconsin Madison and they offered, at the time a dual degree program so you could overlap I think it was like four or five credits. And so it was all in one go. Yeah, so five years
[00:02:43] Mark Hinaman: I’ve did the same thing in mechanical at CU actually, I’ve got my CU shirt on.
[00:02:46] Amanda Lang: Okay. Very cool. Yeah. Yeah, it’s, I know some people go back while they’re working and my gosh tons of respect for them. That would be tough. That’s.
[00:02:57] Mark Hinaman: Couldn’t do that. So. Why, why’d you come to nuclear? What, what fascinated you about it? What motivated you to get a degree?
[00:03:02] Amanda Lang: Yeah. So it really dates back to maybe like middle school timeframe.
I had a project where I was looking at different electricity sources and so, you know, if you look at global energy needs, energy, poverty is still an issue, right? There are a lot of people around the, the globe who don’t have access to electricity. And so to me it was really important that everybody have access to electricity.
It makes quality of life so much better, right? Access to education, the internet amazing things, right? But you have to balance that with the impact on the environment. And so if you look at, you know, you have fossil fuels, you have renewables you have nuclear, and what are some of the pros and cons there?
Really the best in terms of energy density availability, reliability and carbon free. You kind of end up at nuclear. And I will say I was probably influenced middle school. Well. Yes, yes. This is middle school, Amanda.
[00:04:02] Mark Hinaman: Came to this conclusion. There’s some people that go their whole lives and don’t discover this.
[00:04:06] Amanda Lang: Yeah, yeah. I will say I was influenced I had a very good physics teacher in high school. She happened to be my mother as well. So there was a little bit of, of push there to, to go into physics. Fun friends in the family, right? Yes. Yes. And, and math was my favorite subject and physics is the mathies of the sciences.
So it, it really aligned with my strengths and it provided kind of that, that drive and that purpose for going into the field. So. Yeah, I’ve always been very, you know, or not always, but almost my entire life been very interested in nuclear technology. And another big draw for me was I wasn’t entirely sure what my career would look like.
Obviously, you know, when you’re in your teens and whatnot, but if you go into studying nuclear, you can actually go into. You know, there’s two pretty distinct fields. And you don’t have to decide freshman year, right? So, there’s power, which is where I ended up, electricity there’s a lot of research.
You could go to national labs and that kind of thing, but there’s also this branch of nuclear, nuclear medicine. And so to me that was. Also really appealing. I ended up not going that route, but it’s, it’s there. There were several of my classmates who went on to medical school and, and that kind of application of the technology.
So, for something that’s so niche, there’s actually like, A variety of careers within the, the subject matter.
[00:05:29] Mark Hinaman: And, and I love, you’re a woman working in the field, right? Working in stem you know, very technical discipline and your mother promoted it to you. So this is a little unusual, I’ll say, but something that comes to mind was in a recent hearing in Colorado, there were a bunch of people testifying for a pro-nuclear bill, and one of the people that were testifying against.
Was saying, you know, how, how could you ever want your mother to or be a mother near a nuclear power plant who would actually wanna work near a nuclear power plant and work work in one? And so I’m curious on your perspective on that, offer a counterpoint.
[00:05:59] Amanda Lang: Yeah. So I, again, to me it traces back to you want energy for your kids, right? You want them to have access. Energy unlocks so many possibilities. But also if you think about gender equality electricity is huge for that, right? If, if you look at who is hand washing clothes right now, when they don’t have access to electricity, typically falls on females, right? Also access to education and other possibilities.
So to me, you want electricity and energy. So we’ve established that. Now what are your options? Yeah. And your options are, I want the lowest impact on the environment and the, and the safest. And nuclear is the safest. You know, there’s it even compared to something like solar. Nuclear, actually, if you look at the buy, you just look at the data or buy electricity.
Yes, yes, yes. So, it, it’s very much, and it’s tough because there’s a lot of misconceptions around this. And to your point, females are and women in general are typically more anti-nuclear than the general population. And one of the past presidents of NAYGN actually went on to found mothers for nuclear.
Which is another nonprofit. They’re in California, so they focus on saving Diablo Canyon which they were recently had a great success there, and they were able to extend the life of that nuclear plant. But making connections to that audience is so key because again, to your point, like there’s a lot of sentiment of not in my backyard.
So NIMBY is the acronym. But really when it comes down to it nuclear is carbon free. We, we have so many safeguards in place and it, it’s really, it’s really such a cool technology, but there is so many misconceptions about radiation and a lot of that comes from Hollywood and, you know, yeah, that, that type of thing.
So I’m happy to go into it. Whoever has questions, any time of day you can reach out.
[00:08:05] Mark Hinaman: Well, we’ll list, we’ll list you as a resource if yeah. People wanna get educated about it. So, what, what does a core designer do and what, what does a product analyst do to gimme a little bit of on those folks?
[00:08:17] Amanda Lang: Good question.
So, core design. You are modeling the fuel, so you’re, it Neutronics is the study of reactor physics. So the neutrons and how they interact in the reactor core. So a. Nuclear reactor is refueled every 18 months to two years. We, we shut down the reactor. It takes about a month and you take out a third of the fuel and you put a new third in and you rearrange it.
And so that rearrangement, that’s what I was doing. And so you’re, It’s a lot of energy, right? You can power a, it’s about a million homes you know, for two years. And so you, you have to what, how do you get the most out of that fuel? And how do you make sure there aren’t any hotspots? How do you, you know, maximize economics?
And you do all of that modeling. And so it’s, it’s a, it’s a big. Obviously you’re working on it pretty much the entire two years leading up to the yeah, to the fuel reload. And so you come up with the design, you do a lot of iterations on developing the pattern where you place the assemblies and the, you’re, you’re looking at different characteristics like enrichment and also the burnable poisons and Over the lifetime of the, the core.
And so you, you come up with all these designs. You, you pick the best couple and then you, you defend it to management, kind of, it’s, it’s almost, it’s called a review board in, in, at my company. And so, that was a big step. And then after you do that, you can, you have to formalize all the analysis. And so that takes several months on top of that.
[00:09:53] Mark Hinaman: This is fascinating to me. In my mind, I would would’ve envisioned that you just have the same geometry during every refueling. And it’s, it’s a standard process. You know, these, these rods have been in for this amount of time. You know, take ’em out. You take these, you know, put, put new ones over here and shuffle ’em.
And what’s, what’s the feedback loop to understand how you need to, make any changes?
[00:10:14] Amanda Lang: Yeah. So, There’s a lot that goes into it. One of the-
[00:10:18] Mark Hinaman: that’s too deep or too technical, right?
[00:10:22] Amanda Lang: Lemme know if I’m going too far down the rabbit hole, but this is really, I, I love this area. So yeah, there’s a lot of different variability within the corees design.
One of the key is the energy requirements, so the length of the fuel cycle. So maybe you have one. Fuel cycle, that’s 25 months or 23 months. And so you could, you can you know, if it’s 23 months, you could take out a little bit of enrichment, which saves energy. But then you also have to look over what was the carryover.
So remember I said two thirds of that fuel is carryover from. The cycle previously, or two cycles ago. And so, you know, there’s,
[00:10:57] Mark Hinaman: yeah, this is like, replacing one battery in a device that uses three AAA batteries, right?
[00:11:03] Amanda Lang: Yes. Yes. Only there’s actually like 200 batteries and you can configure them in all different ways.
And then the new battery’s coming in, you can pick what those look like. Not like look, look like, but you can pick how much energy they have.
[00:11:19] Mark Hinaman: And meaning you said enrichment level, right? That’s the percentage of U-235. That’s actually in each rod.
[00:11:25] Amanda Lang: Yes. Yes. So it’s uranium 235 is what we use in the beginning of cycle to, to get energy out of, and then late in cycle, we actually have, even in our reactors nowadays you, you get some uranium 238 that converts to plutonium and we actually make energy out of that as well.
So, but yeah, back to what you were saying, enrichment is just the, the ratio of those two isotopes. So uranium 235 to uranium 238.
[00:11:55] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. Okay. So I, that, that makes more sense to me now. The, the power usage and how much fission of the fuel you’ve actually had in each of these rods over time can influence Yeah.
The, the total burn up and then might Yeah. Analyze it and understand how to optimize it. So that’s cool. Yeah. What, what about product analyst?
[00:12:15] Amanda Lang: So as a product analyst I’m on a durable agile scrum team, so it’s a little bit more in the IT realm. And we’re working on designing a, a dashboard and it’s, it’s actually to show our different, our, our energy portfolio at Duke Energy and also increase our communication and our feedback loop with Distributed energy resources is my, the, the area that I’m supporting right now.
And so what that looks like is we are going back and forth with lots of plant information, data, our generation are load getting the third party solar farms and their data in as well, forecasting them, trying to determine, you know, when we’re gonna have solar energy when we aren’t. And so I’m kind of the.
The product analyst supporting the product owner on that team and the overall goal is to help Duke Energy meet its carbon goals for 2050.
[00:13:15] Mark Hinaman: Gotcha. That, that’s awesome. I, I think we could talk for an hour about both of these roles and, and I’m, I’m sure it’s really awesome, but I want to hit on NAYGN and I’m sure we’ll touch on some of the other stuff along the way, but, yeah.
Te tell us about, yeah. North, north American, young generation, nuclear, what, what is this? You’re, you’re the standing president, correct?
[00:13:35] Amanda Lang: I President until the end of June.
[00:13:38] Mark Hinaman: Okay, great. So tell me about the organization and what you guys.
[00:13:43] Amanda Lang: Yeah, so NAYGN we are founded in 1999. You could be of any age to join the, the young generation in nuclear. We do reserve the highest leadership positions for those who are In, in the early part of their career. And the reason for that is in the nineties and the two thousands there, there’s kind of this double hump curve in the, in the nuclear industry.
So there were a lot of people who were in their very early part of their career and a second portion in the very late part of their career. And so there was kind of this gap and there. Much of a bridge to give you leadership opportunities. So, you know, all the leadership opportunities went. People who had been in the, in the industry for 40 years.
And so this was kind of a, okay, how do we bridge this? How do we give some people leadership opportunities? And from there it really evolved. And so now we have four pillars. Professional development. So we offer webinars you know, whether they be on fission, fusion, oof scales development. We also have our annual conference and that’s a, we’re gonna bring together several hundred young people in the nuclear industry and all learn about various topics.
We have several. Awesome keynotes from Isotope who is a nuclear energy influencer to Myth America, who happenss to be a nuclear engineering student at University of Wisconsin Madison. So very cool. And then another pillar is public information. So that’s one that I would actually started out my interest in NAYGN in, I think if I hadn’t been a nuclear engineer, I’d be a teacher.
So I love going to schools, talking to kids. We do student outreach, but we also do government outreach. So we have hill days where we go and we talk to politicians about nuclear energy, about what benefits it can bring to their constituents. And then we also focus on networking. So making connections outside of your company across the industry.
And our fourth pillar is knowledge transfer and retention. So right now a lot of focus is on retaining talent in the nuclear industry, recruiting more people to the nuclear industry and that kind of arena. A lot of that is focused on our benchmarking and career report, which we release every two years.
That was a lot.
[00:16:08] Mark Hinaman: That’s awesome. It was a lot. We can dive in a little bit on each of those. Let’s start with let’s start with the conference. You guys are doing the conference this year. It’s one of the first times that you’ve done it.
[00:16:19] Amanda Lang: Yeah, so normally we have a, or in the past we have had a combined conference.
So this is our first standalone conference and we’re very excited about that. Because we can provide two whole days of content to our members. And we’re already at, you know, lots of people have signed up more than last year at our combined conference, so we are very excited for this. We’re gonna incorporate different aspects.
It’s in Minneapolis.
[00:16:46] Mark Hinaman: Nice. But Minneapolis and June, and just in case this, you know, someone’s listening after June, 2023. The conference is going to be in June, 2023. So if you’re listening to us afterwards, then you missed it.
[00:16:58] Amanda Lang: But they can still sign up online. It’s free to be a member of NAYGN so they can sign up online and join us next year.
[00:17:05] Mark Hinaman: Perfect. Do you guys anticipate to contin continue doing this and hosting it?
[00:17:09] Amanda Lang: Yeah, that is the plan. So we we will always have an annual conference, and right now we’re, we’re focused on doing a standalone this year and next year as well.
[00:17:19] Mark Hinaman: Awesome. You guys are it’s free to sign up, so no membership dues.
How, how are you funded otherwise? Is it donations and sponsorships?
[00:17:26] Amanda Lang: It is donations. So we promote the value of NAYGN to the companies in the nuclear industry. And then we you know, we, we have sponsorship levels with them. And one of our most recent sponsors is actually Anthroposeen and they are a nonprofit who focuses on climate change.
And so they were very generous and, and came on board. And so we’re, we’re very excited about that. And that’s really One of the big drivers for why we’ve focused on clean energy so much recently. So we have a new committee that was started back in the summer, so it’s almost a year old, but that committee focuses on clean energy.
And so what that means is we as nuclear energy professionals go out and attend clean energy conferences where the focus is normally on solar and. Maybe a little bit of hydro in there. But then we show up and we say, Hey, did you know nuclear’s carbon free? Did you know all these fun facts about nuclear?
So it’s really fun love.
[00:18:28] Mark Hinaman: That’s so awesome. The American Nuclear Society has a shirt, or they’re selling it in their retail store. I’ve wanted to go to a solar conference to you know, wear it a little sarcastically, but it, it has two pictures of cooling towers and kind of stars and moon, and then in big font says all night long, which I just like find hilarious.
But, That’s, that’s awesome. Going to educate people kind of at these other renewable conferences.
[00:18:53] Amanda Lang: Yeah. Yeah. And we’re our, our big approach or our, you know, target for this is really, we don’t wanna say, Nuclear 100%, right? We wanna say we need all of the tools in our tool belt to solve climate change, right?
So when nuclear, does solar have an important role to play, but I think, you know, nuclear can really help get you there. And so I, you know, with it being base load, so the, the trouble with intermittent sources is electricity is a pretty unique commodity, right? Oftentimes produced and consumes instantaneously.
If you don’t wanna do that, you have to store it lots of losses when you convert energy and then you have to convert it back. So you convert it from electrical to chemical energy in a battery and convert it back, or you do pumped hydro, something like that. So, the most efficient way is to actually meet, you have to meet load at the, at the same time, right?
And so you have to have variable power output to meet that demand. And so that’s why nuclear can be so instrumental if we really wanna do deep decarbonization, which the, the globe needs right now.
[00:20:07] Mark Hinaman: Yep. Absolutely. What you, you guys have a lot of committees te tell me about some of the committees and how, how they’re structured and yeah, what, what purpose they serve.
[00:20:16] Amanda Lang: Sure. Yeah. So there’s lots of different opportunities to get involved. In pd we HA, or PD is professional development. We have the webinar lead. So they’re putting together various webinars on like a monthly or bimonthly basis for our members. We just had one on fusion and there’s one on SMRs coming up on.
[00:20:38] Mark Hinaman: there’s two webinars that people can sign up for anywhere and get educated and learn about the technology and
[00:20:44] Amanda Lang: yeah. Yeah. So, anybody can join their. Pretty fun, interactive. And the ones that we did the past two months, we’ve partnered with the young generation in nuclear in the uk.
And so we’ve kind of done a, a comparison of across the pond. You know, so comparing those two technologies and how they’re different in the different countries. So that’s, that’s one branch. You can also get involved in public information. So we have a couple people, a couple folks who focus on student outreach.
So we have contests for kids, you know, visit classrooms they can participate in the contest, skip prizes, that kind of thing. Government outreach Where we’re focused on legislation supporting nuclear energy. And then we also have some folks who work on the, the younger kids. So, and, and children’s books on nuclear energy.
So that was something that I was involved in the first children’s book on nuclear energy that NAYGN did. And that really was a big influencer in why I got more involved in the organization.
[00:21:48] Mark Hinaman: And you say the first, how, how many of these do you guys have?
[00:21:50] Amanda Lang: There are three right now.
[00:21:53] Mark Hinaman: Awesome. And are they free?
Can you buy ’em? Can you download ’em?
[00:21:58] Amanda Lang: So right now they are free. The, the electronic version is free. And it’s in the works. We’ll, we’ll soon have a print to or print to order type feature for, we did limited release on Amazon. And, and so they’re, they’re all sold out on Amazon now. But we need to set up a, a more you know,
[00:22:19] Mark Hinaman: yeah, you guys, you guys need a publisher behind you.
Like, oh, we do sell a bunch of these. You know, and they’d go towards funding the organization and.
[00:22:28] Amanda Lang: Yes, we, we need to set that up a little bit. Business opportunity. Cause
[00:22:33] Mark Hinaman: it’s funny that nuclear educators not, not book publishers.
[00:22:36] Amanda Lang: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But it’s definitely not my area of expertise. But it was such a fun project and it was wildly successful.
And it was, it was so funny because a couple of ’em were bought by like third parties and then they resold ’em on Amazon after the initial stockpile was depleted. And they were selling them for like ridiculous prices. And I was laughing cause I was like, oh my gosh. Like a hundred dollars for children’s month.
This is ridiculous.
[00:23:04] Mark Hinaman: I, one of my mentors Yeah. Has written a children’s book and I was like, why? And she’s like, because I’m a capitalist and you know, there’s a demand in this. That’s funny. I, let’s circle back to some of these influencers and people that are participating in NAYGN and, and the young people.
You know, the, the age gap is interesting and I, I. Interesting that that exists in several industries. It also exists in oil and gas, so, Although because of several of the downturns and oil and gas, we’ve kind of, graduated all of the historic executives out of the industry through severances and layoffs.
And now it’s really the people that are running the show have like 10 to 20 years experience, right? All of these 30, 40 year guys are out of the game. I suspect there’s been a slower transition out for nuclear. But I, I wanna talk about the, the young people specifically in the industry are, are people energized to work in it?
Who are some of these influencers? Give, give the audience perspective.
[00:23:59] Amanda Lang: Yeah, so it’s really exciting time in the nuclear energy industry right now. So we’re talking about, Vogel just came online, which is the first new build in decades in the States, right? We had wa Barb, which they finished in Tennessee, and in.
You know, about 10 years ago or so, five to 10 years ago. But that they had started you know, back in the nineties. And so Vogel is the first new build in decades. And so they just start up and put electricity on the grid over the weekend, I believe was their actual like sync to grid date. And so that’s really exciting.
And then we have SMRs, which are small modular reactors, micro reactors. We have so many different designs out there right now. So we’re, we’re looking at ge. Hitachi is building, has a contract to build the first s m R in North America. That’s a combined project with O P G. Ontario Power Generation, which is the utility in Canada.
So that’s really exciting. We have the a r DP program with the Department of Energy, so that’s the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program. So they’re focused on two designs and a, a few other designs are also receiving support through that. But the main two are ex energy and natrium. So Natrium is.
The, the company is Terra Power which is actually one of the main funders for that is Bill Gates. And so they’re, they’re working on advanced nuclear. And so there, there’s just so many exciting projects going on, and I think we are poised with the inflation reduction Act that occurred last summer.
You know, we’re, we’re poised that. Sentiment, public sentiment for nuclear is really growing. We have, there’s financial incentives, there’s public-private partnerships, so there’s a lot going on in nuclear right now that, let’s not call it a renaissance cause we call it a renaissance, that that did not happen in the 2010s.
Just using, again, a rebirth. I don’t know. We need to come up with something, but nuclear right now, super exciting time. And so yeah,
[00:26:05] Mark Hinaman: it’s the big projects that you mentioned I think are exciting for young people. These sound daunting and they make headlines and they’re going to be awesome new reactors.
But if you go to these companies job pages, like they’re hiring like crazy. And when I’ve spoken to people in those organizations or in any new reactor developer company They need people. They need smart, talented, good engineers regulatory people project managers. I mean everything, you know.
And so if you’re a young person, you wanna be involved in building something new and cool, like there’s just a ton of opportunity now. Does that line with perspective?
[00:26:43] Amanda Lang: Yes, for sure. So there is so much talent that they’re trying to onboard in nuclear existing utilities support with the vendors and engineering services, but also in that new nuclear realm.
Very exciting time. And so it, it’s a great time to join the nuclear industry.
[00:27:02] Mark Hinaman: So how does somebody be an advocate for the industry? You know, you mentioned Miss America and Isodope. These, these are two renowned influencers now. But how, how does somebody, how do. How does a lay person become a, a advocate for
[00:27:18] Amanda Lang: Yeah, that’s, that’s a great question.
So, I think one of the key ways to be a nuclear advocate is to just have that conversation with other people, so you don’t have to be an influencer on TikTok like iso oak. So she, she’s a. From Brazil, she’s a model. And then she kind of took a pivot where she is just super passionate about nuclear energy to, as a solution to climate change.
And then Miss America, we, we mentioned her, so she’s a nuclear engineering student who then was involved in pageants and was, was crowned Miss America. And so she’s using her platform to really focus on nuclear as a clean energy technology. But you don’t have to be at that level, right? There, there’s lots of different ways you can do it.
So, just talking to people I think, you know, grocery store, Uber driver, you know, at your yoga class, whatever. But asking people about nuclear, it’s something that I do often. Is, you know, like what do you do? I’m a nuclear engineer. Okay. Let’s talk about it. Cuz that often brings up their fears and just, just listening to their concerns and, and trying to provide some counterpoints is great.
You can also online there’s a lot of different. Factoids out there, right? Infographics that you can repost from the Department of Energy, from NAYGN, from Generation Atomic some of these groups, they will have infographics that you can then share and you’re reaching new audiences that way as well.
So it’s really just making nuclear less of a taboo subject. And something to, to chat about. I think a lot of people are associate nuclear with negative. Items. So whether it be the atomic bombs or whether it be, you know, Godzilla, radiation, that kind of thing. But just providing nuclear facts in a, in a positive light.
I, I think that’s a good way to introduce more and more people to the, the benefits of nuclear energy and nuclear technology.
[00:29:18] Mark Hinaman: Awesome. I love that answer. Well, I feel like we’ve covered or hit the key points for NAYGN. Is, is there anything else that you wanted to say about the organization and then I’m gonna ask you the hard questions,
[00:29:28] Amanda Lang: so.
Alright. Well, so NAYGN Again, you don’t have to be a certain age to join, even though it says Young gen in the title, we welcome everyone in nuclear technology or just a, an advocate and a supporter of nuclear. So, please sign up online. Again, it’s, it’s free to register and there’s lots of cool activities that you can get involved in.
[00:29:53] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. Okay. I want your perspective on ALARA. Give kind of a background on what it is. And this is me coming from the outside, the nuclear industry. And when I discovered ALARA and what it was, it, it, it felt very limiting. And so I, I wanna know, is it still appropriate is or is it not making nuclear competitive.
[00:30:17] Amanda Lang: Yeah. Yeah. Okay. You, you did go to the hard questions. I like it. Please stop me if I get too technical, but yes. This, this is, I can get on my soapbox on this one. So ALARA, what is it? As low as reasonably achievable. So what are we talking about? Radiation exposure. So when you’re in an industrial facility and when you’re in a nuclear power plant they, they have, they set limits in terms of how much radiation you can.
And so this dates back decades, I wanna say the sixties is, is when this principal was introduced and what they were going for here. Are you familiar with l t. Plenty of no threshold. You’re not. Okay. Okay, cool. That’s where I’m going. I just,
[00:31:02] Mark Hinaman: everyone agrees at a certain point, radiation’s very dangerous and it will kill you.
Sit out in the sun too long and you get skin cancer.
[00:31:08] Amanda Lang: Yes. Yes. So there’s this concept that high amounts of radiation result in. Cancer. And so they came up with this relationship where they, you know, it was linear that high amounts of radiation result in cancer in that there is evidence to support that.
And then they kind of extrapolated. And so they said, okay, even small amounts. And the so linear and then no threshold, so no amount of radiation is safe. Thus, we come up with this catchy phrase, ALARA, which is as low as recently achievable. So, you know, no radiation the best, but we got a, you know, very limited amounts of radiation.
So what this looks like in the industry is when we have an outage, we are tracking everybody’s radiation. You know, and we sum it all up. And we have metrics and KPIs, key performance indicators that are all centered around this concept of as low as reasonably achievable. Now, Does the data support that?
You know, so math and science background. When you have data in one, in one area, you know, at, so at high levels of radiation, does it make sense to extrapolate beyond that? Not always right. And so it’s a very conservative approach. And if you look at low radiation studies, there’s some indication that it’s actually the opposite effect.
So some radiation can actually result in a lower cancer rate. Now what, why the reason you, you kind of have to understand the, the mechanics of how radiation can cause cancer. So radiation is energized particles. You are hit with energized particles all the time, right? You breathe radioactive air, you live in a radioactive world.
You have evolved to deal with a radi with radiation, right? So it’s natural. It’s, it’s part of your environment. The radiation, the the energized particle can knock out some of your right. You have a double helix, d n a, right? So it could knock out one of those pairs. Not a problem. Because we all remember from biology that the, the pears, so what is it?
A-T, G-C if I’m remembering correctly? They, they know what, what their partner should be, right? So that’s, that’s the idea. So your body primes to recover from all these thousands of particles that are hitting you every minute. Now the problem is if you are hit with, you know, so maybe you take a take out two at once.
And then the, the DNA strand gets, you know, a little, little. Discombobulated, we’ll say or there’s an incorrect substitution, so pretty rare. And in that case, the cell could multiply. So that would be cancer or it could die off. And so, but your body, if it starts multiplying, your body is also trained to.
Recognize that and then cut off that cell. So it would, it would attack its own cell and, and you’d be fine, right? So there is some indication that if you, it’s, it’s called a hormesis theory, but if you are exposed to some low levels of radiation, your body actually has a increased. Efficiency in identifying those cells and identifying the pre-cancerous cells.
[00:34:30] Mark Hinaman: Would a metaphor be rolling the dirt as a kid so that your immune system strengthened
[00:34:34] Amanda Lang: Yeah. Yeah. Or vaccines or something. Like exposure to something so that your body can fight it off.
[00:34:41] Mark Hinaman: Hazard. Yeah. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Yes.
[00:34:44] Amanda Lang: Yes. So there is some data that supports this.
And so that’s why a lot of us in the with a nuclear engineering background, you know, when, when alar comes up, it’s one of those like, ah, maybe not, maybe not the best. Yeah.
[00:34:57] Mark Hinaman: My perspective is it’s, it’s made the industry be too safe and therefore too expensive. Which has limited new construction and innovation, which has then motivated using o other more dangerous types of energy and has actually resulted in more deaths.
So from a secondary tier, right? Like we’re trying to make it so safe that we’re not using the technology that’s best. And so we’re actually killing more people.
[00:35:21] Amanda Lang: Yes. So there’s such a thing as being too conservative and I, you know, ALARA would potentially fall into that that principle. For, for the layperson I can provide just a little bit more background.
So, The average adult you know, there’s about somewhere in the thirties percentage of cancer at some point in your life, right? And so radiation is a very weak carcinogen. You know, and so teething out, you know, was this cancer caused by a small amount of radiation exposure? It is very difficult to say, right?
And so we look at large populations and we’re trying to trace those cancers to an exposure again. The, the conclusion is radiation is a weak carion. There are certain circumstances where you can actually say like, this specific cancer was tied to a radiation release. But there’s in general again, it’s, it’s.
Radiation is natural. It’s all around us. The amount of radiation you get from living next to a nuclear power plant, you actually get more from eating a banana. So you could live up next to a nuclear power plant for a year, or you could eat a banana, same amount, like actually more from the banana. So there is this like connection between anything nuclear technology specific. Oh, there’s a radiation risk there. But in reality, coal plants give off more radiation than nuclear power plants. Because they’re taking there are many
[00:36:49] Mark Hinaman: particulate matter that they’re lighting on fire and there’s residual uranium and other radioactive materials.
[00:36:56] Amanda Lang: Exactly. And so there’s, there’s radiation from so many different sources that aren’t nuclear. But people don’t see me as concerned about this. So it’s, it’s one of those things where it’s, it’s tough. And I think a Laura. At this point is outdated. And I think it has become, it’s obviously the industry standard and so it, it’s gonna take a lot of intentional thought to kind of change track and, and.
[00:37:21] Mark Hinaman: Let’s do it.
We’re, we’re the young people, right? We can change this. Yeah. Yeah. Let’s fix.
[00:37:26] Amanda Lang: I, I’m all about it. So, I did attend a hearing on this topic. It was a couple years back. It was a Senate hearing on it. But it’s, it’s at, at least being discussed. And at a minimum we need to know, focus more on that low, low dose radiation research and be able to say, you know, hey, this is the supporting the, this change in the industry and supporting the, the change in the federal regulations.
[00:37:52] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. So we we’re, we’re coming up on our time. So, la last question. If we had to build more nuclear tomorrow what’s, what’s one thing that we could do to move towards building even?
[00:38:03] Amanda Lang: Building even more. All right, well, we talked about one resource peoples. So we need the talents, we need the STEM people, engineers to, to, you know, make this happen.
That is, Really a focus. I get asked that all the time as president of NAYGN. That is the number one thing.
[00:38:24] Mark Hinaman: Where where are the people? How can we find more people?
[00:38:26] Amanda Lang: Yes. Yes. So I have presented . On this to NSIAC, which is the Nuclear Strategic Initiatives Advisory Council. So that’s all the chief nuclear officers in the United States.
They wanna know. I talked at the info Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, c e o conference. So all the utilities who have nuclear power plants, their CEOs attend this conference. And that’s what I was there talking about, right? So that, like, that is what people are concerned about in the next one to two decades is do we have enough people?
But other than that, like, I, I really do think it’s an exciting time. There’s a lot of pressure on the existing, or I shouldn’t say the existing projects, so there was so much pressure on Volvo, right? They were over budget. They, they were past their, they missed some deadlines, but. They came online and I am so happy that Southern stuck with it and finished it.
And so now they’re gonna have two reactors. So the vocal three, startup vocal four will be soon connected to the grid and they’re gonna have those reactors for 60, 80 years. And that is so much great energy for that amount of time. So there is a little bit
[00:39:39] Mark Hinaman: in the LCOE calculation. With a 20 year time horizon, like most renewable projects, then it looks terrible.
But when you extend it to 80 or a hundred years, then it’s like, oh, this makes total sense. Yes. And if you look at the system cost, like systems level energy, then it, yeah, it’s actually pretty cheap.
[00:39:57] Amanda Lang: Yes. So there is a lot of that. You have to have a little bit of faith that it’s gonna come through. And it’s a huge upfront capital cost compared to let’s just blop on, you know, some, some windmills and blah, blah, blah.
But the payoffs in the long run are, are absolutely massive. Yeah. And so we’re talking about. You know, 20 year timeframes out to 80 year timeframes, right? So wind mills only, la like that, that would be the extent of their lifetime is, you know, more like the 15 to 20 year timeframe. And the same with with solar panels, right?
And so then you’re, you’re rebuilding that infrastructure, whereas nuclear, you’re, you’re set for decades to come. So it’s really a long-term game plan.
[00:40:42] Mark Hinaman: I like it. If we gotta build more though, we need the right people. So that’s definitely, that’s what I heard. Yeah. I like it. Amanda, thanks so much for your time.
It’s been great talking to you.
[00:40:51] Amanda Lang: Yeah, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.