Ep. 421, Next Generation Titans: Paris Ortiz-Wines, Stand Up for Nuclear
Charlie Cole [00:00:57] Welcome back to another episode of Titans of Nuclear. Today, we're welcoming Paris Ortiz-Wines from Stand Up for Nuclear. Paris, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:01:05] Thanks for having me.
Charlie Cole [00:01:06] Yeah, well, we'll just dive in with the age old Titans question which is, tell us about yourself; where did you grow up? Were you interested in science as a kid? Tell me about your upbringing.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:01:19] So, I grew up in a beautiful beach town called Santa Barbara here in California. Living right next to the beach, loved doing all the water activities. It had perfect weather all the time. And come to find out, it was actually an hour-and-a-half south of our only nuclear plant that's currently in operation, Diablo Canyon in California.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:01:42] And so growing up, I wanted to do many things. I changed my major a couple of times at City College. But when I learned about climate change for the first time at City College, I was like, "Wow, this is a huge issue. How did I never know about it?" I didn't know about energy, I didn't know about anything about anything. And so, I decided to pursue a degree in environmental studies, and I ended up at the University of Santa Cruz. So, five hours north of where I was residing. The first two years I was just going to transfer there. I had a big family unit and big community in Santa Barbara that I always thought I'd return to. But when I went to the University of Santa Cruz...
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:02:32] You know, college is a big thing for any person. When you go away, it's like an awakening, right? It's usually your first time away from your parents and you have to rely on yourself for a lot of things. So, I watched a documentary called Cowspiracy, and I went vegan. And then I started making my own deodorant and my own shampoo and conditioner. And I was fully in the movement of like, "Oh my God, we have to redeem ourselves. We're doing so much harm to the earth."
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:03:03] And so, I thought I was going to work for Sierra Club. I applied to Sierra Club and NRDC. Like, I knew nothing. I was like, "What do environmental studies do? What do I do as a career? How do I help?" Everybody's looking for that way to make their mark in the world. I was like, "These big companies or organizations would be..." And then I found myself into nuclear. I started at a nonprofit, and their main focus was nuclear energy. And for me... Maybe it's similar for you, I didn't have any of the baggage for nuclear. So I was like, "Sounds real cool. That's going to be the solution." And then I wasn't sad anymore.
Charlie Cole [00:03:51] Yeah. How did you find that path into nuclear. Is that Environmental Progress, or...
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:03:56] Yeah. So, I started at Environmental Progress. I graduated Santa Cruz, and my partner and I moved up to The Bay. I was like, "Well, there are no jobs for me in Santa Barbara, so I might as well go make a name for myself and maybe I'll return." And so, Environmental Progress was the organization that I started at. That was Michael Shellenberger's previous organization. I started off as an assistant, and I was so stoked. I'm working at an environmental nonprofit; I'm doing the thing. But oh wait, we did this really weird thing. We support nuclear energy and we save existing plants from closing down. And we were in the heart of Berkeley, which is currently a nuclear-free zone, which is something that we're trying to undo. But yeah, I had to watch the TED Talk, and it was why I changed my mind about nuclear from Michael.
Charlie Cole [00:04:46] Did you watch the TED Talk before joining Environmental Progress?
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:04:50] Yeah, so that was one of the things, right? They were like, "Hey, have you looked at our website? Have you watched the TED Talk?" And I said, "Yes, I did. I did my homework, and I'm onboard." There was no hurdle, there was no convincing me because I didn't have any of the fears and baggage with it. All I knew was... I think the word association was "nuclear means bombs." And I was like, "Oh, there's energy?" I felt so dumb that I never knew about it. Energy wasn't a big topic in environmental studies. You could opt into it and take classes, but there's a big divide between engineering and humanities, so I think there's disdain for each other. And I feel like I was cheaped. I should have had to have taken a class on energy because it is such a vital part of humanity and then also, environment.
Charlie Cole [00:05:48] Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So you learn about nuclear, you join Environmental Progress as an assistant. Were you doing research there, or did you transition from this? How did you then get deeply involved in the research?
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:06:06] Let's continue. I get the assistant job, and I'm like, "Okay, very cool. I get to go on a couple of trips." And then, having the humanities degree, I was like, "I should have done some more science stuff." The analyst at the time, Mark Nelson, was there doing all the numbers. And I was like, "Mark, you need to teach me. Help me understand what energy is. Kilowatt hour versus kilowatt, power versus energy. I just don't know where to start." So, I transitioned into a research assistant position and helped with all of the energy graphs that we would put out that were used in Michael's articles and reports.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:06:47] And then, we come across in... I'm trying to get my dates. You know with COVID, all the times blur together a little bit. So 2019, 2018, we were like, "We've got to do something. Nuclear plants keep shutting down. There's nobody moving on it." That's when Nuclear Pride Fest was instituted, which was a coalition of groups based in Europe that came together who were like, "We need to come together for a day. We need to go out and engage with the community." And then, that is what has transitioned to Stand Up for Nuclear.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:07:24] So during 2020, everybody kind of broke off from Environmental Progress. And Mark and I went off, and I basically continued the project. We can't let it die. So, I'm volunteering my time for this global initiative, and it's very simple. We advocate for protection and expansion of nuclear, whatever that may look like. Small, big, existing, future ones. That's how I found myself in it.
Charlie Cole [00:08:00] One more environmental progress question, just as someone who's chatted with Mark Nelson and Maddie Czerwinski... In my head, there's this group of like you, Mark Nelson, Maddie Czerwinski, Sid Bagga, folks who were sort of in the cult of environmental progress who are now all doing very amazing and very different works in nuclear advocacy. What do you feel was influential about the atmosphere at Environmental Progress? How did you all work as a unit? I know if you were all there at the same time. What was the path of just springboarding off of Environmental Progress?
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:08:33] Yes, it seems like an incubator, right? Michael is this brilliant mind on nuclear and I would say one of the leading ones for action. And when you come into EP, it was a very small team. Maddie was the VP, Mark was like the analyst, I was assistant, then turned research assistant, then we had somebody else as Michael's assistant. But what I think worked was that everybody's input was valued. Whenever Michael would write a piece, an article, everybody got the copy regardless if you were super technically knowledgeable. It was like, "We want your opinion." And so, I think that sense of fostering your voice.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:09:17] And then also, because it's a small team it's kind of like a startup vibe in the sense of everybody works together on projects. Mark and Maddie and I would work on projects; we traveled together. And I think we could see... We were never limited in what we could do. And I think that really helped us and inspired us with like, "Oh, there's so much more we can do." And I think we were all outgrowing our current positions. And I think COVID really was like, "What are you going to do with your life?" COVID really made a lot of people reevaluate. And Michael went off and did his own thing, and so I think it was perfect timing. So, I think there was a sense of confidence that was built there with the small team and with a leader that really doesn't shy away from anything. He is very outspoken.
Charlie Cole [00:10:09] Yeah, that's for sure. Okay, amazing. All right, so then we transition from Environmental Progress to Stand Up for Nuclear. And you said it was the joining of a lot of European groups? Maybe speak a little about the origin of Stand Up for Nuclear.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:10:28] Originally it was called Nuclear Pride Fest. There were about a dozen European groups. So back at EP, Michael and Maddie went to Europe to engage with these groups. And we're like, "Let's form the Nuclear Pride Coalition that will host a Nuclear Pride Fest." And then, after the success of our first one in Germany, in Munich, many groups...
Charlie Cole [00:10:51] Oh, in Germany.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:10:51] I know. We went to the heart of anti nuclear-ism and were surprisingly well-received. There were only a couple of people that were really... I think some were from the Chernobyl area, that area, and they were like, "How dare you?" Anyways, success for Munich, and then people wanted to join. And that's when the rebranding happened for Stand Up. So, that first year was under EP's umbrella. And then 2020 came around, we all split off. And then, Stand Up was a standalone global initiative. We wanted to rebrand it a little bit that anybody can join it, anybody can use the name as long as it's under these conditions of promoting our message and mission.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:11:35] So, now we are in our fourth year, I believe, going on our fifth. The recognition comes from these events that we do. So, our main thing is action and awareness, and that has looked like throwing on a Stand Up for Nuclear event. And it could be as small as a tabling event or signing outside a certain area, or all the way up to international events or even reactor closures where we go there and we memorialize the loss of the power. So, not all are happy and not all are very hopeful, but it is to say that there is a voice saying, "That is wrong." There is a voice saying, "This is what we need." And that's the spirit of it, right? Nobody is speaking out about it. And I think that's definitely changed now.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:12:28] Maybe you've experienced it. If you're not in the nuclear industry, if you don't work at a plant, it's hard to find your community and find others who think similarly to you. And with these events, those have been, I would say, tools to build community. And then once communities are built, then the actions come and it's not just... But we currently have September as our Stand Up season, which I think we might evolve for the next coming year. But basically, anybody around the world can have an event and you share this news in our network, basically. How did you do it? What were people's responses? What media came out? What was your goal?
Charlie Cole [00:13:14] Yeah. I'm sort of amazed by the idea of mourning the loss of the power. I've heard a lot about actions at Diablo Canyon and in Illinois, but where have you guys done events at plant closures? Mourning the loss of power is a real idea. It sounds like a really amazing way of realizing that the opposite of nuclear isn't a neutral world, it's a world with more coal, more air pollution, more climate change. And so, I think that's a really, really salient idea to mourn the loss of power. What did that type of event look like?
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:13:47] The first one that we did was for Indian Point. So back in 2021, I believe. In 2021, we were talking with our allies and it just wasn't looking like things were budging. Timing wasn't on our side, there wasn't this momentum that we could capture, people that we could flip, basically. And Cuomo was behind it. And once Cuomo said something, it wasn't going to change. So, Indian Point was coming up and we were brainstorming ideas. I came across on Pinterest... I was looking up labor movements, looking at what other people had done. And I saw this beautiful image of Italian workers who had laid out their white helmets in a beautiful plaza, and each one represented each of the workers. And I said, "Okay, well, if the mayor is going to be holding a press conference for Indian Point, we're going to be there and we're going to basically thank the workers for working there, providing clean power and providing that clean power for not only their communities, but for New York City itself. That was the largest source of clean energy.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:15:00] We went there and we took this yellow helmet idea; we did yellow. There were a thousand jobs that were lost, so we hand hole punched each of these helmets, these little plastic helmets, and zip tied them to the fence along the park that was right outside the plant. So as workers were going in for their last shift, as they were exiting their last shift, they saw. And it's very impactful. Humans are very simple creatures, creatures of habit, and we love beautiful things in color. And it was a beautiful, sad sea of yellow. And we saw the mayor there and we got coverage. We had people speak there; workers from the plants. And we made it known that we did not want this plant to close.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:15:50] Those images were featured in National Geographic. They're on Getty Images and I believe Loud, a Good Morning America-like channel covered it. What we found is you need to capitalize on those moments because we can go on Twitter and send our messages and we can send some emails to legislators, but really the media is a very impactful tool. So, that was the first one, and it was a big success in the sense of our images were used.
Charlie Cole [00:16:24] Yeah, and even just recognizing... I feel like so many folks in the government probably think that closing a nuclear plant is like... They don't even think about it. It's just like, "Oh yeah, we've got to age that out." And so, even just taking this moment to realize what you're losing, I think that's such a huge step.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:16:41] Right, and the people too; the recognition. We talk about energy transition and jobs, but these are existing jobs, right? Nuclear is one of the heaviest unionized industries and they protect their workers. And those workers lost their jobs, and those are clean energy jobs.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:17:02] And of course, we monitored the situation, and the New York Times came out, I believe, with an article. People were starting to say close up to the deadline that we shouldn't shut down Indian Point. And then, Sid Bagga published the viral tweet basically showing that New York's instate electricity emissions increased by about 30% within a very short time right after. So, we can see it, right? Jobs were lost and emissions increased. They were replace with fossil fuels. And I believe it was replaced, one of them... I believe it's called Ravenswood, in AOC's area was turned back on to deal with energy shortages soon after in the year.
Charlie Cole [00:17:50] Did she coverage on that at all, or did that?
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:17:52] No, I think AOC's position has since changed. I think she's a little bit more open to it. But as far as Indian Point, I think... Similar to Diablo Canyon, Indian Point was a very heavily contested plant. Mark Ruffalo, Leonardo DiCaprio, all were against Indian Point and celebrated the victory. We were up against big money, big power.
Charlie Cole [00:18:19] Yeah. Wow, okay, pivoting from sort of the sad loss of Indian Point, maybe the next big chapter in Stand Up is Diablo Canyon.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:18:28] Yes.
Charlie Cole [00:18:29] So, tell me about that effort. How did you guys first get involved and what were some strategies learned? Was there anything from the Indian Point work, like learnings you guys brought to Diablo Canyon?
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:18:39] Yeah. I think with Indian Point, we really began to understand the politics behind how embedded it is in the political structure and I think, specifically, political parties. Not saying that it cannot be changed, but there's a legacy with nuclear and specifically with blue states. And I think Indian Point and California are similar in their political scene; I'll say that.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:19:06] So with Diablo Canyon, Diablo Canyon had the largest anti-nuclear protest in the United States during its construction. It was a heavily contested site. There were supposed to be six reactors instead of two. Imagine if we had six now, right? We have two; that's about 10% of our power, 15% of our zero-carbon electricity. I say power; energy. And imagine if we had four more. Oh, my God.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:19:36] So, with Diablo Canyon, there was an initial effort that had started with Heather and Kristin from Mothers for Nuclear, Michael back in the day during EP days, Eric Meyer from Generation Atomic; that was under a different umbrella. They had started before the joint proposal came out. For those who don't know, a joint proposal was signed by multiple stakeholders basically saying that we're shutting down Diablo Canyon. They will not be allowed to re-license and we're agreeing that we're not going to re-license. PG&E was in on that, I believe. The Sierra Club was in on that. Labor unions from Diablo were in on that.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:20:15] So, that effort had started back in 2016. Up until then, once a decision was made there was a really big feeling of just loss and I would say, a lack of hope of what was to come. But fast forward to 2020... 2020, 2019, all my dates are mixed up, is when California had those... We have wildfires every year, but these were the wildfires that led to the orange skies. And that was a viral image showing like, "Oh, my God, this climate change, right? We have to act fast." And that was the same time around when California was suffering rolling blackouts, rolling brownouts, I'll say. So, we didn't have enough power and climate change is coming to kill us all. That was like the sentiment, right?
Charlie Cole [00:21:13] And also, just to speak to the orange sky, the yellow helmets... We just are suckers for a colorful image. It's just so evocative.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:21:21] Yes, yes. And so, Isabelle Boemeke, known as Isodope, she was based in California. And she basically, around this time, started to reach out to a lot of pro-nuclear organizations. And nobody wanted to touch it with a ten foot pole because everybody said, "It's a done deal. That's not what we do." I think there's this air of superiority against advocacy, and I think advocacy is compared to activism and marching on the streets and being very forceful. And advocacy is a beautiful range of things that you can do, right? Very small things like sending an email or posting a picture all the way up to like tying yourself to a nuclear plant. Like, there's a range. I haven't done that one yet, but maybe.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:22:11] And so, she basically reached out to me and was like, "Hey, are you guys doing anything about Diablo Canyon?" And I was like, "Uh, kinda. But we can. That's one of our issues that we're looking at." But we were like, "Yeah, perfect. We're in California. Of course we want to save it." It just was like, who's going to restart the effort? You need some event to reignite it and to gather people, right?
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:22:37] So then, Mothers for Nuclear got involved and we started collecting all these random people. That was, I think 2021, I believe, or 2020. And we started a WhatsApp group and we're like, "Welcome to the group that's going to save Diablo Canyon." And we extended it for five years.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:23:05] During those two years... I'm not going to go in the weeds. We all reoriented ourselves and we're like, "What's the status of the plant?" We created this beautiful Epiq document. Like, "What about the earthquakes? What work do we have to do?" Got that all together and we're like, "Okay, let's get some more people." And we started doing little actions. Isabelle, with her group that she's connected with started reaching out and like, "Who's doing anything about Diablo?" An MIT study came out about Diablo Canyon and its use for hydrogen and desal. That was really good.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:23:43] And then Isabelle did a beautiful effort to get 80 academics and scientists to sign a letter to Newsom saying, "Don't shut down Diablo Canyon. Don't call yourself a climate leader because this is what you're doing." And a couple of months after that letter was released, we see in the LA times... Nobody knew, but Newsom had done... Governor Newsom had reached out to a reporter at the LA Times and basically did a story that he is reconsidering his position on Diablo Canyon.
Charlie Cole [00:24:16] Re-considering.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:24:16] Yeah. And I was like, "Oh, like so juicy." And this was like the second year, right. And there were moments and months where we still met weekly but we didn't have any news. But we were just like, "Let's talk about nuclear. Let's keep this going." And once that article hit, Izzy didn't even know about it. And we were like, "Did you know about this?" And he really reconsidered it. Like, "Oh, my God." And so, we all gave him so much love, right? We called his office, we sent him emails like, "Thank you so much for reconsidering." It takes a lot of courage to do that, especially if you're a politician.
Charlie Cole [00:24:50] Right. People don't change their mind that often. I'm sure the WhatsApp group chat was crazy.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:24:55] Oh, yeah. It was popping off. We were all sending messages. I have to mute them sometimes because we just go off. But so that happens, right? And then Dianne Feinstein comes out with a public letter saying, "We should reconsider." And like, she's part of the old Democratic structure where she was anti. And she's visited the plant and was still, "No."
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:25:16] And then a couple of months later, we hear legislation is being proposed. So keep in mind, Diablo Canyon was supposed to go offline in 2025. There is a deadline for nuclear plants to order fuel, to submit their relicensing. It takes time to do this because there's beautiful, complex clean energy infrastructure to keep them safely operating. So, legislation's being proposed.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:25:42] And this is where our group came in. Like, Newsom... I think the letter really helped Newsom, it's political cover. But we did find out that people within his office were telling Newsom like, "You're going to have blackouts." CAISO, the California independent operator for the grid and the California Energy Commission which monitors our climate goals and how we're getting there in our plants were saying, "You're going to have blackouts. And if Daddy Newsom wants to be president, you cannot have that happen on your watch." So, the shortages were just... I don't remember the exact numbers, but we're talking about thousand of megawatts of power that we were going to have a shortfall of.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:26:30] So, legislation is being proposed. We hear the word. They're like, "We're going to have a public meeting." We need pro-nuclear support. We need advocates for this legislation showing up to this meeting to signal to the office that this is going to be a way forward. This was a seven hour public hearing call. We were on that call for seven hours.
Charlie Cole [00:26:52] Oh, my God. A Zoom call or an in-person...
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:27:00] This was on the phone.
Charlie Cole [00:27:03] Oh, my God. A seven hour phone call.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:27:04] Call in, right? They had a conference meeting you could follow online, but you had to call in. The group that we assembled and all of these advocates, all of them were on the call. All of our group was on the call. We had heard from his office like, "You guys need to show up." And that was our moment. That's where the consistency of the two years and us meeting weekly even though we didn't have anything to talk about, that's when it came into play. And we outnumbered the antis on that call. And then, a series of meetings happened. We're all calling in. Some House assembly members, and then we had the Senator meeting.
Charlie Cole [00:27:46] Yeah. Is this like you all provide talking points for all the advocates calling in? What does that sort of look like, the call in?
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:27:56] Great question. Our WhatsApp group is like our core group, right? So, we have Mothers for Nuclear, we have Isodope, we have Stand Up, and then we have other organizations in there. Within this, I would create the documents of talking points. Like, how to call your legislator. And then we'd provide a spreadsheet. It's like, "Here are all the numbers. Here's the link of how to find your legislator if you don't know who they are." Talking points, and then also email addresses. Like, "Send them emails if you can't call in." We would do some phone banking efforts. Like, "Come on and hop on." I would be independently messaging people on social media and emailing them. Like, "Hey Monica, can you please email and call." That personal touch really goes a long way. Those are the people who showed up, provided public comments, and over the phone.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:28:53] And then, it was all over to the legislation. So, we showed up to the capitol. We did some beautiful projections. We were out there until the vote. It was like until one in the morning, midnight, that they were voting on. It was one of the last issues. And you could go into the capitol and you could see them voting. And it was a landslide. Everybody fell in line. All the Democrats, except for a couple, all voted yes to extend Diablo Canyon by an additional five years. So now instead of shutting down in 2025, we have it until 2030, but we're going to get the full 20. So, it's not going to be 2030.
Charlie Cole [00:29:34] That's all you guys needed. All you needed was that reconsider. Give them an inch...
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:29:38] Yes. We live to fight another day, right? We have the five years to breathe.
Charlie Cole [00:29:44] Yeah. So those call-in talking points, was it very sort of blackout oriented? What was the message specific to California that was really resonating with people?
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:29:54] It was a mix. I would do it by section. So, first one is climate. Like, "If you shut down Diablo Canyon, according to this study, this amount emissions will be increased. Or, "Currently we have 50% of our electricity coming from gas." And the next one would be energy reliability. And it was actually pretty... I would say, informative. A lot of individuals would call in for the climate angle and then also touch on high electricity prices. And that's what we're seeing. California has the second highest electricity prices in the nation. And that's a combination of factors that have led to that. And then, we saw businesses... Energy reliability was their biggest point. Hospitals were like, "You can't sacrifice energy reliability because..."
Charlie Cole [00:30:51] Right, baseload power's so important.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:30:53] Yeah. So, it was a variety of talking points. They could pick; I let them.
Charlie Cole [00:31:00] That's really interesting. Wow. Yeah, just what a success. I was definitely following along with it on social media. I didn't get quite as involved as I probably should have, but that's just an amazing story.
Charlie Cole [00:31:08] So, I guess that then brings us to the next question, which is what are you working on now? I feel like I've seen some stuff in Illinois. I know Pritzker just recently had a bad veto. I've seen some stuff with Germany as well. Mark came out with some report about getting German plants back online. Where are the priorities lying now? Is it folks just doing their local work, with people in Illinois doing Illinois and people in Germany doing Germany? What are you guys working on these days?
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:31:39] I'll do it by country. In the US... So for example, in California our existing plants are currently fine right now. None are on the chopping block; we're doing okay. But now we're seeing throughout the US, we're talking about doing... Whether it's feasibility studies for advanced reactors, small reactors, or we're seeing moratoriums being repealed. So, we're working on a campaign in California still in the works to repeal our nuclear moratorium. Illinois was doing the same. And they had bipartisan support. And Pritzker, we believe, felt internal pressure from individuals or organizations to veto the vote. We're going back to the drawing board to see what our options are for that.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:32:31] We're seeing the sense of... You know, the AP1000s at Vogtle are near complete. The fourth one's almost.
Charlie Cole [00:32:36] Yeah, the third one's online.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:32:37] Yes, the third one's online. The fourth one is being fueled, I believe. And now it's like, "Okay, so you built this huge project. Where are the big ones coming?" There's been a lot of pressure and, I would say, push for the small reactors that, as we know, are still not built. Have not been built. We've seen some politicians be like, "Okay, what about nuclear? What would that take?" I think we as advocates are looking to see how can utilities start to purchase or order some AP1000s. So, it's a positive vibe for the US. I think for Stand Up, we're currently looking at California, Illinois, and then what's after Vogtle.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:33:27] And then abroad, we have Germany. Mark has been one of the loudest international voices about the German closures. So for them, we still can restart a couple of them. I think right there, our advocates are still continuing to harness that energy from those who are speaking out saying, "Hey, actually we should turn them back on. Actually, we made a mistake." And on the other side, environmental movements are like, "Why are we opening coal? We know why we're opening coal. Because you shut down power. You have to have power to replace power."
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:34:05] And then, we have countries now that since the energy crisis are like, "Oh, nuclear looks like a really good idea. Maybe we should include it in our national plan." Sweden just announced an additional 10-plus reactors, I believe. Norway is looking into building their nuclear, to talk about nuclear. In Denmark, they're looking at nuclear as well. Politicians are like, "Okay, what would it take?" Then we see the Netherlands, they're going to build two more reactors near their existing site.
Charlie Cole [00:34:39] Because they're all looking at Finland and how Finland just finished their climate goals with Olkiluoto. It's like 98% of their power is carbon-free now.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:34:48] It's like, "Oh, chef's kiss. I'm done. Oh, let's electrify. Okay, we'll just see what happens." And then, we have other countries like the Philippines and Indonesia where nuclear is now included in their national plan. And now they're like, "Okay, what is this going to look like for us?" And I think a lot of African countries as well are like... You know, they have gotten the short stick on many things for multiple decades. So now, energy sovereignty, energy reliability for them is a big one. And unfortunately, the US isn't giving them many options, but Russia and China are. So, they're looking at some reactors.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:35:28] So with Stand Up, we are continuing to harness the good mood here in the US. And abroad, we're continuing to monitor existing sites to make sure... Belgium is still on the chopping block. But I would say the political arena in the EU is changing. For better or for worse, it's leaning more towards the right, center of right, which is usually good for nuclear, but usually kind of mixed on other issues.
Charlie Cole [00:36:05] And with the Russian War... Do you feel like the talking points in Europe, both because of the center-right shift, but also war with Russia cutting off Russian gas... Is energy reliability sort of becoming a bigger leading talking point?
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:36:18] Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Because everybody was like, "We were doing so good. We were on our way to meeting our climate goals and we were taking a lot of generation offline." In the UK specifically, too. And then, the energy crisis hits and we're like, "Oh, look at how vulnerable all of you were and how you cut production. And now, you're scrambling to get more online and then you're sending..." In the UK, they sent their customers during winter socks to thank them for conserving electricity. And, "Thank you for doing your part, so stay warm with your socks." So right now, it's energy reliability and sovereignty. You've got to have your own stuff fixed, worked out.
Charlie Cole [00:37:05] Which was, sort of from my understanding of history, the guiding philosophy for France, right? Wasn't it energy an energy sovereignty post-oil crisis push in the '70s? It's sort of interesting how we want climate change to be the thing that really excites people, but it's really only when their light switches aren't turning on. Sort of visceral things like that.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:37:30] Connecting, that's something that people... Everybody can remember the feeling of turning on the light and it's not on. You're like, "Oh my God, the power's out. Oh, my God."
Charlie Cole [00:37:39] Yeah, yeah.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:37:41] Yeah, similar to you, I was so bummed it wasn't climate. It's not climate that really gets people upset. Of course, it's emissions but also, I think it would be air pollution, like the things that you can tangibly see. But we'll take it. I mean, energy sovereignty... You can rebuild your nation and ensure a clean energy future with nuclear. You can do them both, which is the beautiful thing about nuclear.
Charlie Cole [00:38:10] Right, right. Amazing. Okay, so then, as I mentioned earlier, the sort of structure of this collection of interviews is nuclear and youth. So I do want to ask some questions about... I don't know how youth-oriented Stand Up is. I'm sure you interact with a lot of other folks who have been in the industry for a while who are pro-nuclear and younger folks. And so, I'm curious a little bit about what are the differences between those? I think the question that I'm really interested in is what do you think young folks miss about the nuclear industry and what you think old folks miss? What are people missing about nuclear in the future? Anything about nuclear and generational thought. Sort of a lot of questions in one, but...
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:38:48] I like them. I'm keeping notes of each one. Okay, so when Stand Up started... It was mainly, I say, older. It's a range, right? There's all the way up to like 70 and all the way down to like young 20s who were initially involved, that knew enough about nuclear to want to show up to an event. And I will say, initially it was mainly men. There are more men that are drawn to nuclear. And I think there's some difference that I've observed going to outside events like South by Southwest. I was able to go and join the Anthropocene Institute and got to chat with young people. And what I noticed was young people are like, "Oh, nuclear is good. I kind of heard about it."
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:39:39] The anti-nuclears really won basically because of their heavy pushback against nuclear. Then, there was just a silence. Like, nobody would talk about nuclear, You had to go to specific classes in your education to come across it. And even then, it wasn't like, "It's really good." It was like, "Oh, this is nuclear. We use it." And that was it. So, chatting with young folks, they're like, "Wow, I didn't know." They don't have the baggage. You have to talk to them a little bit, lead them through, "Actually, it's not that scary. Oh, that was bad. But let's take it bigger context."
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:40:19] But when chatting with the youths and with other people through my experience, I find that men... They're not scared to be wrong and scared to have these outward thinking thoughts and say something that is maybe a little bit outrageous sometimes or really have that confidence to be like, "I'm right." On a technical subject, on a technical subject. This is just a generalization of my experience. And then with women... Which I'm a woman... They're like, "Well, I don't know everything about it and I'm not an expert. Therefore, I cannot have an opinion or say something about it because it's so technical. So if I am going to speak, I want to make sure that it's all right." And I think men have not, sometimes.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:41:17] But that is definitely changing. Me, coming from not a standard, technical background, you can still have an opinion and still advocate for something not knowing exactly how it works. Because if we look at the renewable side... Of course, renewables are a little bit less... They're basic, you know what I mean? Like, they're just basic energy forms. And so they're like, "Go put a panel up there." But like, they don't know how panels are made. They don't know how the wind turbines are made and how they're recycled and stuff, but yet they still are promoting.
Charlie Cole [00:41:48] I was going to say, solar panels seem very simple, but then they're like this crazy layer of silicas and...
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:41:53] It's like, "How do you dispose of it? Oh, what? There are some toxic metals in there?" "Yes, there are."
Charlie Cole [00:41:59] It's not just photosynthesis?
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:42:01] So, that's the youth part. And then the generational part... Maybe this is more like industry folks. They're always trying to prove the merits of nuclear. Like, "It's really safe." They always start with safety, which is so infuriating as a communication standpoint. Stop talking about how safe it is. And I think they downplay the role that it's going to play sometimes. I think the older generation is like, "Oh yeah, I don't know how how much more we're going to build of nuclear. It kind of looks good. Whereas the youth, just in general, they're like, "If we want to do it, we should do it." And I think there's this more optimistic approach to it. And I think the younger people...
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:42:56] Even at Last Energy, the sentiment that you all are bringing and the refreshing modernization of nuclear is really eye catching. It's like a gateway drug for people. That's what usually gets people into nuclear are these small reactors, and then they find out about the big ones, and then they like them both. And that's how they get into it. But I think the younger people are looking for something that works, and nuclear is it. I think the older people sometimes don't know how to capture that energy. And I admit I'm still learning how to capture that. Our movement is not... I would say we have some young 20-year-olds but we don't have high schoolers, usually, in the movement. I think at the moment, it would need to be taken up by a high schooler if I went to go do a presentation, for example, and they start the initiative. I think there are going to be two movements that focus on different angles for nuclear.
Charlie Cole [00:43:59] Interesting.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:44:01] I hope I answered your questions.
Charlie Cole [00:44:03] You totally did. Especially that piece of the older generation liking nuclear. They're often sort of like in their own technical nerdiness of feeling like they need to defend its safety and not really thinking about growth. I've certainly found that to be the case as well.
Charlie Cole [00:44:21] I feel like I've got a couple more small questions that came up while you were talking. One of them is around the AP1000. Vogtle's obviously pretty amazing. Pretty cool that Georgia's about to... I don't know the percentage. I don't want to say a false number, but they're just all of a sudden decarbonizing a lot. And to your point of that maybe other folks are now looking at the AP1000. Maybe there have been learnings from the construction delays and overbudget implications at Vogtle. Do you have a sense just from keeping tabs on the US of where you think the next AP1000 might be or where the future new big construction is in the US?
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:45:06] With AP1000, this is where I relied on those who are in the technical field. What actually went wrong with AP1000s? I'd say I have a basic understanding. This design wasn't fully completed when it started construction. The supply chains weren't really that stable, I would say, secure. And it was one of our first big projects that we've done in a while. It was a just a big learning curve and a big learning opportunity. But what we saw is with the first reactor that you start to build, that one usually is the most expensive and takes the most amount of time. There are things that go wrong. And then with the second one, you decrease the time.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:45:53] And so with big reactors, there is an apprehension from utilities specifically in the US to do big projects because some have filed for bankruptcy because financing and the perceived risk behind these projects are large and we don't do big projects anymore. And they usually go overbudget and go off our timelines. But it would be an injustice to not build more AP1000s. Everything is set up now; we're offering them to Poland and to other countries. How dare we not build them in our own country? How lame. Like, what happened? I think this is where we're going to have a new rebranding of what nationalism is. Like, a pride in ourselves and our ability and keeping things at home as well as helping others abroad.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:46:45] So, AP1000s. I don't know where they will be built, but what I do know is that there are a couple of plants that already have combined operating licenses where they literally have a license to build a reactor on site already. And so, there's around... Do not quote me on this, I think around six of them. So, they can start building very rapidly. Like, they could do it now. Each of them have a different reactor design that they would like to build, but they could start building.
Charlie Cole [00:47:18] Are some of them AP1000s? Or, all of them? None of them?
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:47:21] I don't know. I would have to double check. But that doesn't mean that other plants that do have room to apply couldn't do the AP1000s. Westinghouse is doing a big push for it. I think they need to do a bigger push. But I do think that financing is going to be a big component. So, I leave that to the policy and money wonks. Like, help us figure out how we can get these costs and the initial costs down and get some security for the utilities to do these projects.
Charlie Cole [00:47:54] Yeah, it'll be interesting to see as Vogtle now finally starts to pay for itself back, maybe it'll just take a couple of years of people seeing Southern Company make some money before the investors want to like...
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:48:05] Yeah. And I think another component to it is that the taxpayers did have to bear that burden. And so there is, I would say, fair frustration with the company and with the project. And I think that's where the nuclear communication and the outrage and the trust is. Like, we are sorry that that this is the case. How are you going to talk to a future community? How are you going to tell them that that's not going to happen? How are we going to talk about that?
Charlie Cole [00:48:43] That's our big question. I'll end with one big final last question, which is, sort of more broadly, what do you see for the nuclear industry moving forward? What is the vision that you individually or as Stand Up for Nuclear see as where we're headed?
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:49:02] I think in general, that nuclear is back at the moment. There's a nuclear resurgence. I don't want to call it a nuclear renaissance, but there is a resurgence where countries, whether it's for energy sovereignty, are looking at nuclear. They don't want to be beholden to others. So, I think there is going to be a lot more interest in nuclear. And what it's going to come down to is can we deliver? Who else is going to start building these babies? Russia and China are doing it; South Korea is getting back in the game. So, I think countries are going to come back to nuclear. There's going to be a learning curve because you have to keep manufacturing, keep doing it, and keep all the systems in place for it to become efficient. Like, what we always say about France, right? You've just got to keep building the same ones, keep everything going.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:49:49] But in general, I think the nuclear industry, I hope, is going to gain some self-confidence in the sense where they don't have to keep proving themselves and asking politely to be at the table when nuclear has been the unsung climate hero throughout time. For the past 65 five years of commercial nuclear operation in the United States, we've provided 50% of the zero-carbon energy in this nation, but yet we're not included in climate conversations. So, I think there is going to be some confidence instilled in workers at plants and also in the industry execs where you're not hated but also you need to step up. Kind of like you're up for a promotion, right? Like, they're not just going to notice you from your hard work, they're going to notice you because you asked for it and you came to them and said, "Here's what I do." And that's what the industry needs to do.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:50:46] I think environmentalists like us are going to keep finding their way to nuclear because they're like, "Things aren't working, and you're lying to me. Give me a solution." So, I think there's going to be a beautiful peak that we're going to reach. Industry's going to be confident and cool and get with the program, and the environmentalists are going to be like, "Hey, we want to help." And then it's going to be a beautiful thing and we're going to have so much nuclear. We need it. Like, I want power, all the time, 24/7, no sacrificing.
Charlie Cole [00:51:16] Wow. Thank you so much, Paris. I loved the conversation. I appreciated chatting with you; everything was great.
Paris Ortize-Wines [00:51:26] It was super fun. I appreciate it.