Volunteer Spotlight: Jim Hopf

Volunteer Spotlight: Jim Hopf

Volunteer Spotlight: Jim Hopf

By Katie Zakrzewski

For this month’s volunteer spotlight, we hear from CCLer Jim Hopf, a retired nuclear engineer who is the founder and leader of CCL’s Nuclear Action Team!

Jim lives in Tracy, California. He retired early so he could devote his time to climate advocacy. Jim has a physics degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a nuclear engineering degree from University of Texas at Austin. He was recruited into CCL after a CCL member read a letter to the editor he’d written on the subject of climate policy. When Jim has free time, he participates in his favorite hobby: skydiving.

Tell us about your main activities or passions within CCL.

I am the leader of the Nuclear Action Team. I’ve been involved with lobbying the nuclear industry, creating the guidance document on how to speak to nuclear-supportive legislators, giving presentations about nuclear, and answering questions from CCL members (about nuclear power and the action team). I also arrange action team meetings. That involves selecting topics for the meetings and (sometimes) getting speakers for the meetings.

What drew you to nuclear energy?

As a nuclear engineer, I obviously have an interest in nuclear power. Many other NEAT members work in the industry as well, but many others do not. Most nuclear supporters I know are mainly motivated by its environmental benefits. Nuclear plants produce very large amounts of reliable, non-intermittent, carbon-free, pollution-free power. Nuclear’s land use (footprint), raw material inputs, and (thus) mining/extraction impacts are much lower than those of other energy sources, including renewables. Existing plants can keep power rates down and enhance grid reliability.

How does the nuclear action team’s work relate to CCL’s main focus on carbon pricing?

I started the Nuclear Energy Action Team a few years ago. As someone who used to work in the nuclear field, and had a basic understanding of energy policy and power generation economics, I knew that carbon pricing would be very beneficial to nuclear power. Since carbon pricing is technology-neutral and gives nuclear the same level of support (vs. fossil generation) as renewable sources, it would be more beneficial to nuclear than most (perhaps all) other climate policies. For those reasons, I believed that the nuclear industry could be a powerful supporter of carbon pricing. Thus, I thought that CCL should reach out to and lobby nuclear utilities and companies; something they hadn’t really done so far. The best way to facilitate such CCL lobbying would be to create a nuclear action team. So, I sent out a request and worked with CCL staff to establish the Nuclear Energy Action Team.

Tell us more about the Nuclear Action Team.

The Nuclear Energy Action Team (NEAT) has three objectives/goals:

1)  Reach out to and lobby nuclear-related companies (e.g., utilities w/ nuclear power plants), and discuss how carbon pricing would be good for nuclear — the goal being to get their support for carbon pricing.

2)  Provide guidance to CCL members on how to speak to nuclear-supportive legislators (so that they have the best chance to get their support for carbon pricing).

3)  Act as a source of nuclear-related expertise that CCL members or chapters can turn to.

NEAT is NOT about getting CCL, or its members, to support nuclear power. It’s about getting the nuclear industry, and nuclear-supportive legislators, to support carbon pricing.

NEAT members, along with members of the Electricity Action Team, have met with several nuclear utilities and companies and discussed carbon pricing. Some of those companies have come down in support of carbon pricing (although they may have supported it anyway). NEAT members drafted a one-page guidance document on how to speak to nuclear-supportive legislators. NEAT members have also been asked by CCL chapters to give presentations about nuclear power. We also occasionally answer questions from CCL members/chapters.

What are some of the policies and bills that the Nuclear Action Team supports?

As CCL members, our group supports carbon pricing. We do not have any clear or formal position on any other policies. As discussed above, NEAT’s purpose is not to promote nuclear power, specifically. Thus, we do not necessarily support any policy that supports nuclear power.  That said, it does appear that most NEAT members do support nuclear. Thus, they are likely to support policies that at least give nuclear power a fair chance to compete, e.g., technology-neutral policies that treat all non-emitting sources the same.

I believe most NEAT members would support the recently-passed infrastructure bill, which has a program that provides financial support to keep struggling nuclear plants open. The subsidies involved will likely be smaller than those given to solar and wind generators. Thus, it can be argued that the nuclear provisions of the Infrastructure bill are a step toward technology-neutrality, with respect to the overall impact of all U.S. climate policies. Analyses show that keeping existing nuclear plants open is one of the cheapest, if not the cheapest, decarbonization options. Another clear argument is that, to make progress on climate, we need to keep all the clean generation we have, so that growing renewable generation replaces fossil generation, as opposed to other non-emitting sources (like nuclear). The Infrastructure bill also funds demonstration projects for several new nuclear reactor designs. The main argument for supporting new nuclear development is the growing expert consensus that nuclear will need to play some role in any future carbon-free power grid (because getting all of our power from intermittent sources will likely be impractical or unaffordable).

Editor’s note: Jim’s Action Team recently sent out a poll gauging CCL members’ opinions about nuclear energy. You can see the thread about that poll, as well as the results of that poll, here.

Katie Zakrzewski, CCL Communications Coordinator, is an avid reader, writer and policy wonk. With published pieces, as well as podcast and radio appearances spanning the country, Zakrzewski looks forward to using her talents to create a healthier planet of tomorrow.