By Wayne Laib
Over the course of my 20+ years as an American Nuclear Society member, I have read many articles in various ANS publications written by many Society officers urging us “regular” members to get out and educate the public, extol the virtues of our industry to our neighbors, and enlighten those who recoil in horror when we mention that we work at a nuclear power plant. Each time I would nod my head in agreement with the Society officers, think to myself, “That’s a no-brainer,” and then continue paging through the publication to the want ads to see who was hiring. I always thought that “somebody else” should do the enlightening. Recently, however, I became that “somebody else” when a local group of retired engineers and scientists from the Regional Engineers & Scientists of Cincinnati approached ANS with a request to supply a speaker for its monthly meeting.
The program’s sponsor contacted Laura Scheele of the ANS Outreach Department and requested someone to speak on the subject of small modular reactors (SMRs), the nuclear renaissance, and/or fuel cycle issues. Since ANS did not have any Outreach Bureau volunteers in these areas, Laura dug through the membership roles, looked for someone who might fit the bill, and contacted me by e-mail.
When I read her request, my first response was, “No way!” After all, I’m a garden variety nuclear plant worker with no formal public-speaking training and no speech-making experience. Besides that, what could I possibly teach a group of scientists and engineers? So, I mulled it over and had my thanks-but-no-thanks response to Laura composed in my head when I finally thought, “What the heck,” and decided to give it a go. I’m glad I did.
I contacted Laura, and despite my trying to convey to her how unsuited I was for this task, she convinced me otherwise and got me in contact with the gentleman (Bob) who had made the speaker request. And so my journey began.
I called Bob, introduced myself, and got a general feel for what was expected of me. He had seen an article about Toshiba’s offer to install a 10-MWe modular reactor in Galena, Alaska, and the concept intrigued him so much that he dug further into SMR technology and wished to share his enthusiasm with his group. That led him to ANS.
I arranged to get together with Bob at his home and spent a very enjoyable day meeting his wife, touring his 100-year-old house, learning of his interests (he refurbishes pianos), listening to him talk about his long career as a mechanical engineer in manufacturing, and even managing to get some work done on the presentation.
I spent the next two weeks after that researching the subject matter and developing my presentation. Before this speaking opportunity came along, I was peripherally aware of the SMR technologies, but since all of my post-Navy life was spent in large, commercial nuclear plants, I hadn’t given them much thought. I had no idea of the width and breadth of these “new” technologies until I began to dig. I say “new” because they all seem to employ some aspect of technology that has been around since the beginning of nuclear power: liquid metal and high temperature gas coolants, fast fission, breeding, and small size, etc. I also had a chuckle at all the cute names the manufacturers use: PRISM, IRIS, 4S, mPower…..seems as though the NSSS suppliers have learned a thing or two about marketing since the old days.
I have to admit that I was very intimidated by the thought of standing in front of 60 or so engineers and scientists with decades of high-tech experience in a variety of scientific fields way beyond mine, but I was immediately put at ease by the warm reception and their eagerness to hear what I had to say. The membership was polite, interested, inquisitive, and appreciative. I couldn’t have asked for a more receptive audience for my first attempt at public speaking.
So I gave my talk. I was surprised at how easily the words came to me; although I had a prepared script, I didn’t need it. When one truly believes in the subject matter, it is easy to talk about it, because the words come from the heart and not the head. I answered questions long after the meeting had officially ended, and had we not been chased from the hall so it could be set up for the next event, I think I might still be there.
To sum it up, what an experience! It started as something I absolutely did not want to do and ended as one of the high points of my professional life. I met a wonderful group of people, learned a great deal about my own industry, and had fun doing it. So, if Laura from ANS’s Outreach Department calls you with a request to speak on behalf of the Society, don’t say no. Go for it. You’ll be happy you did.
The ANS Speakers Bureau consists of members of the Society who have agreed to participate in public education activities. They have put themselves on the ANS call list for classroom visits, speaking engagements, and media interviews. ANS Outreach supports these speakers by supplying presentation resources and materials.
If you are interested in volunteering for the ANS Speakers Bureau, please contact the ANS Outreach Department at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wayne Laib is a Product Manager for Curtiss-Wright Flow Control’s QualTech NP business unit, overseeing environmental qualification and commercial-grade dedication projects between trips to Korea supporting the company’s efforts in new construction and operating-plant maintenance and upgrades. He is a product of the nuclear Navy (1971-1977) and later he spent 14 years working on the utility side of the industry at the Zimmer, Palo Verde, and River Bend nuclear power plants. He joined Trentec, Inc. (now QualTech NP) in Cincinnati in 1991.