In 2016, Kristin Zaitz and Heather Hoff had a realization: nuclear power had a PR problem. Nuclear plants around the world were at risk of premature closure due to public misperceptions around nuclear energy. But nuclear provides a large share of the emissions-free electricity we need to transition away from fossil fuels. They knew that we can’t beat climate change and secure the future without nuclear.
On episode 3 of The Climate Challengers, join Kristin and Heather on their journey from the anti-nuclear sidelines to becoming the co-founders of the global movement Mothers for Nuclear.
Mothers for Nuclear: Redefining activism in the age of climate change
From the day they bring their child home from the hospital, mothers worry. Worrying is just part of the job. So it was not surprising that Heather Hoff and Kristin Zaitz, two moms from California, used to worry about nuclear energy. Like so many of us, they only ever heard the bad news: the Fukushimas, Chernobyls and Three-Mile Islands. But then Heather and Kristin decided to test their assumptions. They started working at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, the last nuclear facility in California, where 10% of the state’s electricity is generated. Pretty quickly, they realized their fears were misplaced. The real threat was climate change, and nuclear energy could actually play the role of hero. It was 2016, and Mothers for Nuclear was born.
“I don’t know that I was really led to re-examine my views on nuclear until later in college when I realized there was an operating nuclear power plant in our community, and so I asked my friends what they thought of that and no one really supported it,” Kristin told The Climate Challengers podcast host Andrea Bain. “So without doing any more research I just thought I should be against nuclear,” added Kristin.
At the end of college, Kristin got an internship at Diablo Canyon. She entered that job still skeptical, but after years of working at various roles in the plant and asking countless questions she ended up firmly pro-nuclear.
“Through those years I ended up changing my mind and finding Diablo Canyon and nuclear power in general to be a great thing for our climate and a great thing for land conservation, two issues I really care about,” said Kristin. “I learned a little more about solar, wind, hydro and all of our different options and I just got to seeing that there wasn’t one perfect solution like I’d previously thought there was.”
Heather’s journey was similar. She’d heard a lot of local opposition to Diablo and decided to do her own research. When she landed a job at Diablo Canyon, she approached it as though she were a spy, infiltrating the operation to see if anything nefarious was happening. With an engineering background, she started as a plant operator and asked a million questions. “Eventually, I came to realize that nuclear was pretty strongly aligned with my environmental values,” Heather said.
Heather and Kristin felt good about the work they were doing. “After working there for a while and realizing how much electricity is produced on that tiny little land footprint of the powerplant—ten percent of California’s electricity is produced just on this one tiny little piece of land, surrounded by all this amazing land around it with wildlife—it just seems like such a great way to go,” said Heather.
But they soon realized that they needed to do more. “When we learned that Diablo Canyon and other existing nuclear power plants were at threat of premature closure, that’s when we started really thinking, ‘OK, we need to do something about this,’” Kristin told Andrea. “But what can two women with fulltime jobs and kids do to move the tide on this?”
Their answer: Mothers for Nuclear.
“We felt so strongly about those environmental values, we decided that we have to do something. It shouldn’t be that hard for people to get the information on what our options are to do something on climate,” said Kirsten. “I felt obligated to share that information with other moms who don’t have time to go start a career at a nuclear power plant and ask a lot of questions and read articles or put together a speech. Moms are busy and we have families and we have kids and all this stuff going on,” Heather added.
In the five years since its founding on Earth Day, 2016, Mothers for Nuclear has grown and flourished and now has chapters in Canada, the UK, and Germany-Austria-Switzerland. The Canadian chapter of Mothers for Nuclear actively promotes nuclear technology and hosts Stand Up for Nuclear events around Ontario, where the majority of Canada’s nuclear plants are located.
Mothers for Nuclear is, at its core, about correcting the public misperception that nuclear power is too risky to be part of the solution to climate change. Heather and Kristin want to flip that narrative on its head, and show that it’s too risky to not use nuclear to lower greenhouse gas emissions. For those who are still afraid of radiation, they calmly point out that we live on a radioactive planet. It is everywhere. “I get more radiation from my granite counter tops than I get working at a nuclear power plant,” Kristin observes.
For Heather, Kristin and all the Mothers for Nuclear, it is time to go beyond the safety debate. The airline industry doesn’t lead with safety, telling prospective passengers that they haven’t crashed a plane in decades—they lead with the wonderful places you will go, the experiences you will have. Mothers for Nuclear are happy to share information that assuages people’s misplaced fears of nuclear, but they also want to lead with nuclear power’s strengths. They want you to understand where nuclear can take us. They want us to see that a future of abundant, low-carbon, affordable power is possible, and it can be generated in a way that preserves wild spaces and protects natural ecosystems for your children and their children’s children.
Heather and Kristin have started a global movement focused on fighting climate change and empowering communities. First and foremost, they are mothers for nuclear, but they are also proud to call themselves Climate Challengers.
Facts about nuclear
is OPG’s in-service nuclear generating capacity as of Sept. 30, 2021
of experience OPG has safely operating nuclear plants in Ontario
of waste would be produced from one person's lifetime worth of energy from nuclear
80 million tonnes
of CO2 emissions are prevented in Canada alone as a result of nuclear power
The information, statements, comments, views and opinions expressed during this podcast are solely those of the program participants and do not necessarily represent those of Ontario Power Generation Inc. or its affiliates.