When I was in high school, I got a job with the community park district with nothing more in mind than to save money for college. They assigned me to supervise activities for children at one of their facilities, and I fell in love with the kids. I also was witness to some difficult family dynamics. In college, I volunteered to tutor English to Laotian refugee children at a nearby elementary school. These were “boat children” displaced by the Vietnam war, and their families’ stories touched me deeply. I knew that I wanted to do something that would positively impact the lives of children, but at that point I hadn’t figured out how, beyond my volunteer work.
I got my degree in journalism, with a public relations major, and had the good fortune to land at a public relations agency with a number of nonprofit clients. I spent most of my career working for cause-related nonprofits and professional societies. I worked with the American Library Association and enjoyed promoting reading and adult literacy, along with informing people about other ways they could use free library services to improve their lives. I later was Director of Communications for the National Parent Teacher Association, where I was on the front lines of the first AIDS and drug abuse prevention education programs. I had found my calling. I later worked for a drug abuse prevention nonprofit, and when they closed their Chicago office, I focused my job search exclusively on nonprofits. But not just any nonprofits – those that involved improving people’s lives, like the National PTA.
Two years ago I saw a posting for the Director of Communications and Outreach for the American Nuclear Society (ANS), I dismissed it thinking that I didn’t want to work for an organization that I thought supported something negative and bad for the environment. And what could a nuclear society possibly be doing to improve people’s lives? After all, having spent my career advocating for children to have a better life and having raised two children (now 18 and 21) as a single mother, I couldn’t very well abandon my principles. But, perhaps like many of you reading this, I decided to do some homework about nuclear.
What I discovered, is that most of what I had thought about nuclear power was completely wrong. The fact is, nuclear energy is clean and so much safer than I had been conditioned to think. For example, I was shocked to learn that the “smoke” coming from cooling towers, wasn’t smoke at all but simply steam. I started learning about the many ways that the wide variety of nuclear technologies are significantly improving our lives, and the tremendous potential there is for new discoveries. I was inspired to want to help bring the facts to others.
We live near a forest preserve and have regularly volunteered as a family to pick up the trash that people throw in the woods. We have a lot of wildlife in our area because of the woods. It’s not uncommon for traffic to back up waiting for a turtle, deer or family of ducks crossing the road near my house. And, I’ve become a bit of an obsessive recycler. I do what I can personally every day to protect and improve our environment. I’ve taken small steps like getting an electric mower to reduce gas emissions, and since my area is primarily powered by a nuclear plant, I know it’s being energized by a clean source.
Since taking the job with ANS two years ago, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard, “nuclear plants are accidents waiting to happen and the waste is a huge problem.” On the contrary, I’m confident, and frankly, completely impressed with the safety focus and awareness among people who work at nuclear power plants. I’ve become more concerned about the actual damage that the energy sprawl of solar and wind sources have on the ecosystems than any possible nuclear issues.
I look back and remember how I was one of those people who didn’t want a train transporting nuclear waste coming through my town because it could “spill” and cause a radiation disaster, when in reality, used nuclear fuel is solid and storage is more safe and controlled than nearly any other toxic substance. I believed the often misleading headlines and misinformation presented online and in media. Now I’d say that I’d rather see used nuclear fuel transported through my town than see an oil or other chemical tanker.
Now that I know more about nuclear, I firmly believe it’s vital to ensuring long-term clean air, and access to energy in the future. I try not to be “preachy” with my friends and neighbors, but I’m honestly so excited about what the future of nuclear can bring. The promise of small modular or “Generation IV” reactors and others currently in research and development gives so much hope for the future of humanity and the environment.
I’m proud to lead an initiative that gets the facts into schools and youth programs with accurate information about nuclear energy so kids can grow up with an understanding of the realities. ANS has the beginnings of a K-12 program in place and is hoping to expand it in the coming years.
Early on, I committed my career to advocating for children to have a better life. Now that I know the truth about nuclear power, I realize that my career choices have led me to exactly the right place. Nuclear technology enhances our lives through clean and reliable power, life- saving medical diagnostics and procedures, and more. My hope for the future is that nuclear technology will continue to advance and be adopted across the world, for the benefit of all humanity.
Tari Marshall is a mother of two and the Director of Communications and Outreach for the American Nuclear Society. This article represents her opinion alone and not that of her employer.