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Transcript of Wanda Munn

How Oregon State University Grew Nuclear Science- 50th Anniversary of OSU NERHP Graduate Program

LaSells Stewart Center OSU

Corvallis Oregon on October 11, 2009

60 minute transcript edited for clarity by narrator

Wanda Munn, (WM) Narrator: Retired Nuclear Engineer, former Secretary of Radiation Center who received her undergraduate degree in Nuclear Engineering from OSU in 1977 and went on to work at the Fast Flux Facility at Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

Katie Parker, (KP) Interviewer: OSU History Club President, Women’s Center Coordinator, International Degree and History Undergraduate Senior at OSU

KP We are at the 50th Anniversary of the Nuclear Engineering project here at OSU. All right, to get us started, if you could just overview in general for us your ties to OSU in a general format and then we will get into some details about what that was.

WM Okay. I have multiple ties with OSU…first came to Corvallis as the wife of a graduate student, who later became a member of the administrative staff. So spent a number of years doing things that faculty wives do in Corvallis—was President of the Newcomer’s Club and was actually very active in the transaction that resulted in the purchase of the thrift store that we use downtown, still to this day. Left Corvallis, while my then husband was teaching, and came back in the mid sixties, with two children.  I   worked on campus myself for a number of years, including a couple of years at the Radiation Center for Chih Wang, before I became a student there. Graduated from that program, and went to Richland, Washington to the Hanford Nuclear site to become a part of the Fast Flux Test Facilities team. The facility was at that time being constructed and I had fallen in love with breeder reactors while I was in the Nuclear Engineering program, so it was the best game in town. Not only the best game in town, the best game in the world. Since that time, I have been moderately active in alumni affairs. I have done a couple of a, some, seminars at the department, and other than that, come to Corvallis when I can. My son and daughter-in-law, —-my family —- still lives here, so my ties never were completely severed and I trust, probably won’t be. I am probably one of those persons of whom they say,” Beaver born and Beaver bred and when I die, I’m Beaver dead.”

KP (Both are laughing) Excellent. So we see that there was this span of a whole lifetime involved here at OSU.

WM Pretty much.

KP Would you maybe, expand a little bit about that transition from student to, I guess, faculty working here. What was that like?

WM Well, it was like, oh for goodness sake—time out. Time-out. Stop. [The digital recorder is turned off for an unknown amount of minutes]. You misunderstood what I said also.

KP There we go, so you were talking about the transition from student to beyond student I guess.

WM Oh, to beyond student…That was a delightful transition for me. The interesting transition was from being an employee at the Rad Center to becoming a student at the Radiation Center. You must understand that I was not a sweet young thing, at that time (KP laughing).  I was in midlife. It is rare enough I think for a woman approaching forty to make a decision to pursue a technical degree. I had a number of friends at the time who I think would have understood if I were going for a degree in  underwater basket weaving or “finding myself” somewhere along the way.  Even if I had gone into philosophy or one of the social sciences I think they would have understood it. But, no one could quite grasp that I actually was going to pursue a degree in nuclear engineering. This was astonishing to be them. One of them said to me, “Wanda, you’ll be over forty by the time you get a degree.”  And my response was, I am going to be over forty anyway, I’d rather be over forty with this degree than (KP laughing) to be over forty without this degree. So, um, it was a difficult transition period for many people. It wasn’t as hard for me, I think, as perhaps it was for the people in the department. You understand that I had already been there for a couple of years, and as a well-seasoned semi-professional female in any case, — just not a technical female. I had been on a first name basis with the faculty and with Chih, so that the change from being the woman in the front office, taking care of Chih’s correspondence and overseeing the clerical staff, to being a student was…could not have been easy for them. It certainly could not have been easy for them. I had to be cautious not to use their first names in class (both laughing)

KP Right.

WM It was interesting for the students too.  I was easily twenty years older than any student there. We… even the young men who had just come out of the Navy program and had decided to become degreed engineers, even those young men were still very young men by comparison to me. So most of the students, I think, were a little afraid of me. They really didn’t know how to approach me, they saw me as somebody’s mother, which indeed I was, and were quite sure that I was going to be telling them to stand up straight and to tie their shoelaces and I could not care less whether they stood up straight or tied their shoelaces. They were also quite fearful that I was going to destroy the curve. I had to assure them that it was my job to hold up the center of the curve, no curve was going to be destroyed by someone who had the responsibilities I did. At that time, I had… I was a divorced mother with two children at home, not much in the way of child support as a matter of fact. You know how those things go. And a… a mother who was in declining health, a dependent sister, and her child, my only nephew. So I had enumerable responsibilities. To the best of my knowledge I was the only student there who had to do the shopping, go home make dinner for a full family, make sure that older parents needs were taken care of.It was… it was a large burden, and one which left me very little time for the kind of study that I would have liked to have devoted to my curriculum. But it was something I wanted to do very badly. I had hoped to be able to have enough money from the sale of the only piece of property I owned other than my home[residence] to be able to get through a four year program, but unfortunately the money did not stretch that far and it was clear to me that it was not going to stretch that far. So money was a problem all the time and I had to…go… I had to be very cautious to make sure that I did not overdrive my headlights. It was a, it was a tremendous challenge and one that I am forever thankful that I undertook. It certainly not only changed my life, it changed the life of my entire family and I think probably almost everyone in my circle of acquaintances and my colleagues, but it was not easy. I do not recommend that course of action to (KP laughing) people ordinarily. The classes were enjoyable but very difficult. I was a very ordinary, barely, barely ordinary, student.  I was unwise enough to take on also the responsibility of chartering a new student section for the Society of Women Engineers. There were very few women involved in engineering at that time, but of course it was a very exciting time, too, because prior to the mid seventies there were virtually no women in engineering. The social climate had changed so markedly in the late sixties and early seventies that it was possible for me to enroll as a student without getting a great deal of pushback from anyone. This is the first time in the history of the United States when this would have been possible. As a result of that social situation, there were, by my memory, only… there was only one other female in the department, one female student in the department at the time I started. By the following year there were two more. But that’s still not a huge number of females… In the entire school of Engineering at that time, to the best of my knowledge, there was only one female faculty member. We found one female faculty who could serve

KP A full female faculty?

WM A full female faculty member who could serve as our faculty advisor for the Society of Women Engineers. She knew nothing about the Society for Women Engineers (both laugh) but that’s alright she had the faculty title.

KP By ditto, gender.

WM Yes, exactly. So we were able to pull that together. I had also been hoodwinked by one of the seniors, my junior year. I had been very active in, as active as I could be, in the student section of the American Nuclear Society. This student chapter was always very, held a leadership position nationally in what ANS did. My senior colleague conned me one day in a parking lot into agreeing to accept the responsibility of the presidency for that student section the following year. So my senior year on top of the other things that I had going on, I was chartering a section of the Society for Women Engineers and serving as president of the American Nuclear Society Student section, during which period of time we had the responsibility for a Regional student conference here (both laugh). It was absurd. I was carrying twenty two hours (more laughing)

KP Oh my gosh.

WM It was just absurd. But I got through it… in three years. I don’t recommend it. It is not a shrewd way to go.

KP What were, if you remember at all, specifically how you did manage that, what is called today a second shift of doing the student parts and then going home and taking care of a family?

WM Oh, I had so many clubs in the air at the same time that it was just, it would have been impossible to do if I had been a person who required a great deal of sleep. Fortunately, I am very healthy and have always been a high energy person, so it was possible for me to get by on… I routinely slept between four or five hours a night during the week. I tried to catch up a little bit on weekends but weekends were times for me to check to make sure what’s going on with my family and… try to spend a little quality time with my declining mother. The only real regret I have about that period is that my mother did have a stroke and died in February of the year that I graduated. She did not have an opportunity

KP that’s right before you…

WM Yeah, she didn’t have an opportunity to see me wind up this big project that I had started in the middle of life…

KP I’m sure she knew you were going to do it.

WM She knew I was going to do it. If ever there were a person that supported their child it was my mother, so it was a sad portion of the last year of my student years at Oregon State but it was the way things were.

KP and how did…so you graduated at the end of that third year…

WM Yes. 1977.

KP So, this is still a climate that isn’t exactly opened to females or engineers or accepting. How did, what kind of pushback, I guess, did you…?

WM I didn’t find any trouble at all in the workplace, and the reason I didn’t is because people were really at that time really, really pushing equal opportunity. So, a female for the first time had an advantage, especially where I went. I was going to a government site and um… The bad part about that particular time was women who were qualified as well as women who were not qualified were being sought after. So, there were two things that one had to cope with. One was the forgone prejudice of the hiring group which had, for its entire lifetime been biased against women, being sort of forced into giving equal consideration to women and getting extra brownie points if they actually hired one.

KP Right.

WM So, this was a double whammy, actually, for the women who were going into the work force. What I found very quickly is that my male colleagues made two assumptions. One they made the assumption that I was not qualified—that I’ d been hired because I had ovaries. And two, they made the assumption that I was going to try to somehow take their job.

KP Right.

WM Neither of those assumptions, of course, was correct.  So my hardest problem, as a middle aged woman with a new engineering degree going into a fast paced advanced technical program was to convince all of my colleagues around me that I knew what I was doing, and that I was not going to stab them in the back. I very quickly found myself in a position of having all of my female colleagues be young women in their early twenties, some of whom, as I said, were qualified and some of whom really were not. So I became a bit of a mentor, very quickly, for these young women, many of whom were at a total loss as to how to behave professionally and even how to dress professionally. We did a great deal of work in the Society of Women Engineers during that period of time on dressing for success as an engineer, as opposed to other kinds of professional women.

KP Very true…

WM You would have professional women from, for example, we had one woman who was an attorney come to talk to us about how to dress. How she dresses for the court room has nothing to do…

KP No.

WM …with how one should dress as a female engineer. And a trying to lead young women into understanding that they can dress professionally and still dress in a female or a feminine manner was a real challenge in itself.

KP So what is the, I guess, the difference between dressing for success as an engineer and dressing for success as a female lawyer?

WM Well, I had two rules.

KP Yes.

WM One applies primarily to an engineer who is going to be in the field, as opposed to an office engineer. There are some women who never go into the field but I work on the assumption that any engineer at any given day is likely to find themselves in the position where they need to be somewhere other than in an office. If you are going to do that, then you need to make sure that you can go anywhere that your male colleagues go. So my two rules were always the same.  Always have on long pants because you never know when you are going to have to climb a ladder, or walk across a grating or walk or be in some situation where, you don’t have, you must have freedom of…

KP Right, not someone under you looking up.

WM  Exactly. You have to have all of your limbs working. You can’t do that in a skirt.

KP No.

WM So it’s just assumed you are going to wear…You can look nice. It doesn’t have to be jeans. You can look nice. You can look professional, but…pants. The other thing that I insist on wearing, and have ever since the first day I walked off the stage with my degree in my hand, is flat shoes. You don’t wear heels if you are going into the field. You don’t know whether you’re going to be on solid ground, you don’t know whether you’re going to be on grating. You don’t know where you are going to be, you have on flat shoes. You have on flat shoes with a sole that you can walk on rocks with. Again, you can, it doesn’t have to be a work boot unless you want it to be a work boot. It can be a feminine shoe, but it needs to meet certain qualifications. Which means you have to shop a little more for your shoes, big deal! You can do that. So those were my two rules. My other rule was if you know you want to feminine, you want to be pretty, do it with your blouse, do it with your jacket, do it with sensible jewelry but don’t put jewelry on your hands if you can avoid it. You are going to have put your hands in places that might snag your jewelry you don’t want to do that. Don’t wear things that you would wear to a party or to a social event to the office or to your workplace. It’s unreasonable but you’re a female you can wear all the beautiful colors you want. Take advantage of the color thing that keeps stuff out of potential machinery, collisions, just use common sense. We had in Richland, at the time that I moved there, the national President of the Society of Women Engineers working for Westinghouse Hanford where I went to work. Her name was Arminita Harness, an interesting woman, a retired colonel from the Air Force had been in the NASA space program and she had what she called her ten commandments for women in engineering. I don’t remember what all of the other commandments were, but I believe it was her number seven commandment that I thought was so good, that I repeated at every opportunity I had to any of the other female engineers and that commandment was: “Thou shalt not be sexy at the office even if thy cup runneth over.” (Both laughing). I made that point repeatedly because it was very difficult for our male colleagues to be making this adjustment also. It was hard for young women to be moving into this field to begin with and it was hard for them to not be coy, and a little bit flirtatious, as most women have been taught to be most of their lives. But as I pointed out to them many times, if you are not maintaining eye contact with the person you are talking to and if you are not transmitting good technical information or receiving good technical information then you are not doing your job as an engineer. So don’t let the fact that all of your predecessors have been sexual objects get in the way of your setting the standard for what a professional female engineer is going to be.

KP Wow, yeah…

WM It’s um….That doesn’t have much to do with OSU! (WM laughing)

KP No, it has everything to do with OSU! This part of, still a struggle we have is representation of women in engineering, and that was kind of where my next question was going that you’ve had a chance to be a mentor for a number of years now with women in engineering. Have you seen any sort of change with that, both personally, how you have been treated and through your mentees…

WM I have seen an enormous change in the young women whose lives have intermingled with mine, and have had numerous young women say to me, “I could not have done what I have done, I could not be who I am if I had not had your help in finding the path I needed to be on and how to pursue that path.” Which is one of the most gratifying things I think you can have in life — to have someone say something of that sort to you. I have been disturbed that the media and social mores over the last three decades have changed so radically. It is always surprising to me when people are asked what they think the most important discoveries or advances of the twentieth century were, people say all kinds of things, they talk about the space program, which of course is true, most are smart enough to say, harnessing the atom. Most people understand that the dawn of the atomic age was a change in history that has never been equaled by any change before. But it surprises me I have never heard anyone say that the development of reliable birth control is what changed the world in the twentieth century. It really is.

KP I couldn’t agree more.

WM Until women had a choice as to whether or not they were going to bear children at any given time in their lives then they had no real choice about other things as well. If you can not time when you choose your family, if it is always a random set of events that results in your development of the family that you want or if you have no choice as to what the limits of your family will be, then it is impossible to plan a lifelong career or a path of intended expression. It’s just impossible. So to leave that social segment of history out of any discussion is in my view closing your eyes to the reality. This is a social upheaval; there has never been that option available before. It resulted in what is commonly called the sexual revolution. And frankly, I have been highly disappointed in the sexual revolution (KP laughs). What I had hoped it would do is give women the kind of equality base that I believe is necessary if we are going to take advantage of the intellectual capabilities of the human species. I frankly do not believe that homo-sapiens is the correct nomenclature for our species because I don’t see a great deal of sapient behavior going on (KP laughs). But I have been disappointed that many women especially in the last decade have opted for the sexual freedom that these changes have allowed but have not opted for a new level of personal behavior that would take civilization to a new level. I am quite convinced in my own mind that it is the behavior of women that establish civilizations. It has certainly been through written history that is the case. So if women opt to use their sexuality, their freedom in sexuality, now in the same way that men have used it in the past, which is almost facetious and as a matter of gratification rather than a matter of significance then I don’t think we’ve won anything. So it is that portion that’s transpired in recent years it’s been disappointing to me. I very much hate to see women dressing as is popular now because it is, it is clearly salacious and is intended to be sexual in its nature, which is unfortunate because such reality is only one portion of our personalities and it is only one portion of our capabilities. If we’re focusing on our sexuality at the cost of our intellectual and social potential, what are we losing? We’re losing a staggering opportunity. So time… is an interesting telescope through which to view the world.

KP Using that telescope, you mentioned that you see social history to be very tied to everything that you have done as a female engineer…

WM Absolutely.

KP In the nuclear engineering side of things, how do you see a social role?

WM Oh that is huge.

KP And it seems you have been involved in that with also being involved with politics, things like…

WM Yes, yes.

KP So how do you, I guess how do those two parts, how does those two parts compliment each other? Or how do you see those tied together?

WM That’s another of my personal burdens I suppose. I have tried very hard for a number of years to convince my technical colleagues that they should be much more visible on the political scene, not just as technical experts but as decision makers and in elected office. Not doing so results in having enormously important decisions made by people who even with the best of good will and with the best of honesty do not know how the real world works. If you don’t know how things really work, how can you talk about what is the best source of energy? How can you talk about how conservation should be approached? You don’t know how things work!  You may have the best of intentions but we have seen repeatedly in the last two decades incredible decisions that are going to affect the welfare of the world made by people who have not had a mathematics class since they were a sophomore in high school. This is frightening. When decisions are made that affect the world, there should at least be an unbiased factual input by individuals who know how things can work. Without the abilities that engineers and scientists bring to that field, how can we expect our politicians to be making good decisions? Their advisors are for the most part people that they know, who have similar party affiliations to theirs which has nothing to do with how things work in the physical world. They know how things work in the political world. It’s not — it’s not the same set of facts, but it’s the same world. We’re allowing our physical world to be badly mishandled at the cost of policies that have no valid basis in fact. They are all from the Journal of Irreproducible Results. It is a sad commentary, but technical people have two strikes against them. First of all, if they were really and truly enthusiastic about social activities primarily, then they wouldn’t have gone into — they wouldn’t have chosen the technical fields that they’re in. They shouldn’t be opposed, but they are, they are in two different worlds. But we all live in the same world. Many technical people are not good speakers either. Their ability to communicate is sorely limited by their tendency to spend most of their social interactions with individuals who have the same educational background and the same philosophical background as they do. This doesn’t do well for policy making. So I try very hard to try to persuade more of my colleagues who have a technical bent to also become active in the political world, because in the political world is where powerful decisions are made. Simply writing a letter of outrage when a bad decision is made doesn’t do it in terms of affecting real change. I have forgotten what your original question was!

KP That was it! That was entirely it. Don’t you worry these are open ended questions designed to let you expand. So we were talking about the social end of the technical side of nuclear engineering. And to focus a bit more on the technical side, I would like to get back to what you call “your love affair with breeder reactors” Can we talk about that love affair a little bit?

WM We certainly can. I can see no reason, I can’t see how anyone can claim to be a conservationist and not love breeder reactors. I like to tell people I was a conservationist before most of them could spell the word (KP laughs). If your definition of a conservationist is a person who seeks the highest and best use of all resources, then you have to understand that energy is the most precious resource we have. We’re all taught that the requirements for life are food, clothing and shelter. Right?

KP Right.

WM You can’t have food, you can’t have clothing and you can not have shelter without the expenditure of energy. Some kind of energy has to be available for anyone of those three requirements to be recognized. Now, if that’s going to be the case, then you have to be very very realistic about what sources of energy are available to you. If we are not truthful with ourselves about that, then can we be conservationists? I don’t think so.

KP I wouldn’t think so either…

WM I don’t think it is possible to be a conservationist without being truthful about what resources are available to you. Now the next question then becomes what is its highest and best use?

KP And your answer would be?

WM My answer would be… which source of energy are you asking about because we have multiple sources of energy. We like to treat them as alternatives to each other. That term is used consistently, “we’re looking at alternatives energies.” Yeah.  I hate to be crass, but

KP Please do…

WM I call BS.

KP Excellent.

WM All forms of energy are not alternatives. Now some can be supplements, but they are not alternatives. If we want to live in today’s industrial world with all of the mechanical slaves that we have at our disposal, then we have to recognize that the concentrated energy sources that we have are very few. The concentrated energy sources we have are carbonaceous fuels, a number of limited elements, and not much else. So you look around and you see here we get all kinds of headlines about oil, all kinds of emotional reactions to oil, oil supplies. There has not been anything new in the world of oil for fifty years. Reality is that oil and coal and natural gas, which are all that part of carbonaceous fuels we talked about, are the most concentrated and easily accessible form of familiar energy that we have. So what would a conservationist do with those three carbonaceous fuels? A conservationist would say, what do we need these for? Now let me see, we need them as a basis for all agriculture…oh didn’t we mention something about food earlier?

KP (Laughing)

WM Virtually all of fertilizers, all of the pesticides that are necessary, not just to grow food, but to grow large enough amounts of food to comfortably feed the population of our planet today, come from a petroleum base. Let me see, look around you, I see a carpet, I see the soles of my shoes, I see my plastic-lensed glasses and my plastic frames, I see a plastic recorder,  I see…

KP Plastic laminate on the wood…

WM Plastic laminate on the wood, oh there goes a car. Gosh, driving on tires with a petroleum base, inside is upholstery from a petroleum base, a dashboard, and a steering wheel from a petroleum base. Hmm, what about my computer? Well gosh, its got a lot of metal stuff in it and then its got that plastic case and then its got… Almost everything I wear, almost everything that makes my home comfortable, the fabrics…

KP And how does nuclear come in to that?

WM We’re not getting to nuclear yet, we’re still talking about…

KP Still talking about carbon based things, yes…

WM There is pharmaceuticals, so many of them petroleum based. So we have food, clothing, medicine just to mention a few and there are some kinds of transportation that we can’t just use big batteries for. Of course big batteries have kind of a draw back to themselves. We worry about the back end of the fuel cycles.  We need to, we’re already, we are already into the—“and how do we recycle batteries?” question…

KP That’s true

WM It’s a big deal. If we are going to have the best use of these petroleum products and we have to use them for vehicles like farm equipment. You can’t get by without using petroleum for farm equipment and airplane travel.  You have to.  Mass transit requires it for the most part. If you are going to do that, then we’ d look at what were using it for and now,  and you know what we’re using it for? Not a whole lot, we’re using it to make pistons go up and down and to boil water. That’s what were using it for. The most precious chain of atoms in the world we’re using to make pistons go up and down and to boil our water. That is not a conservationist attitude. Ranting and raving about whether or not were going to drill more oil, or where were going to drill, is beside the point. It’s a finite resource. I don’t care how many holes you stick in or where you stick the holes. It’s a finite resource, there’s no more being made.

KP I love the way you put it.

WM And when you have used it all, you’ve used it all. It’s not going to happen in my life time, it’s not going to happen in your lifetime.  There are more ways that we can squeeze more oil out of shale and all that sort of thing, as it becomes more and more expensive, but the cost of it doesn’t have anything to do with that. The real question is, are we using it to its highest and best use? And the answer is no. A thousand times no. And that brings us back to a question you asked earlier, and what about the power of the atom, which is almost infinite. Certainly when you look at a uranium atom, well, what are we doing with a uranium atom? We’re doing a nice job with the uranium atom. We are getting it out of the ground, and after all sorts of court cases and, and political wrangling over whether or not this highly dangerous element should be used for anything at all, we’re concentrating it to the point where it can be used efficiently and effectively in boiling water reactors. And then we’re putting the fuel in the reactors, and we’re using, oh, maybe twenty-five, thirty percent of the potential fuel.  And then we take it out of the reactor and then we call it dangerous nuclear waste and we wring our hands for thirty years over what we’re going to do with the dangerous nuclear waste! When we’ve known from the outset what to do with the ‘dangerous nuclear waste’.  That isn’t dangerous nuclear waste! It’s spent fuel and it still has seventy-five percent of its available potential energy in it. So why don’t we separate the fuel out of that rod, get the seventy five percent worth of the energy that is still there out of it and reuse it? Well, because that’s a dirty chemical process and besides you get plutonium out of it, and everybody knows plutonium is the most dangerous thing in the world. Even a tiny little fraction you can’t even see can kill you; ask anybody, everybody knows… Actually, everybody doesn’t know that, but you have been told so, more than five times and any good psychologist will tell you that if you’ve been told something five times,

KP It must be true.

WM You incorporate it as a fact, whether it is or is not. So what would be my highest and best use of an atom? Specifically, are you are leaving it to me now, I would put it in a breeder reactor. I would make Mixed Oxide Fuel out of it. This at a time when my government, with policies made by people who should know how things work, but clearly don’t, have decided to try to find every way they can to downgrade the highly enriched uranium and plutonium that we have because its dangerous.  Somebody might get it, and use it for a bomb, don’t you know? So all of the work that’s gone into getting it to this highly qualified, high energy state is going to be wasted.  We’re going to do our best to get it diluted down to where it can not be that dangerous and nobody’s going to walk away with it. Instead of using it to make mixed oxide fuel, a mixture of uranium and plutonium oxides, which can be used as fuel at the same time we’re using depleted uranium, which is not good for anything except weighing down weapons, pretty much, and scaring people to death even though there’s not really that much danger to it. If you put depleted uranium all the way around the outside of the reactor that’s using plutonium and uranium oxide fuel, then what happens is that  extra neutrons  are given off by the plutonium and uranium oxide fuel.  At the same time that it is generating electrical energy, the mixed oxide is giving off extra neutrons.  And those neutrons, instead of being absorbed by other materials just to be made more radioactive, are going into that blanket of depleted uranium and making more fuel. So, after you have reached the end of life of the fuel that you are using, you can take it out, separate it, and not only have more fuel yet to use from that, but you’ve also made more fuel from the blanket you have around it. Now I don’t know of any other process that exists today where you can generate electricity at the same time you are making fuel for more.

KP Uh huh.

WM There’s no question, this is a complicated chemical process and it has to be done carefully and by people who know what they are doing. But you know what? We may not be very sapient… but there are some of us who do learn from our mistakes and we’ve gotten pretty smart about how to handle nuclear materials. There are very few processes in the world that have had more scrutiny than the nuclear processes that take place in nuclear technology and in nuclear medicine. They are highly scrutinized and no one undertakes it who doesn’t understand what they are doing. We’re not using any of the fuels that are available to us for its highest and best knowledge. We’re trying to convince ourselves about windmills, which are fine for some applications, but they are supplemental. They are not replacements. And solar power, which is everybody’s great white hope—my goodness, how wonderful, use the sunshine! Of course we should use the sunshine in every way we can. It’s wonderful for heating spaces and domestic use even commercial buildings — but it’s not a concentrated form of power. It is not available to help us make plastics and the medicines and the other kinds of materials that we need for our comfortable twenty first century lives.  It’s not available to do that. We need to use all the forms of energy that we have, but to their highest and best knowledge. Not trying to fool each other into thinking we can substitute them for something else. We’re still arguing with each other about what to do with water for heavens sake. That’s really not that difficult.  You just look at facts and you make the decision which is more…what is the hierarchy of importance? What is more important? Once you’ve decided the hierarchy of importance then it is not that difficult to decide what you are going to do with any given energy source. We’re so fortunate in the northwest to have the combination of potential energy sources that we have, but we’re still not using them well. And its not because we’re wasteful; its because we’ve made the wrong policy decisions. But many of them were national policy decisions.  That’s even more tragic.  Our entire nation, with the amount of capability that we have?  If we were using breeder reactors the way we should be using breeder reactors, we’d have enough depleted uranium that’s  already been taken from the mines and is stored back east because nobody knows quite what to do with it and its still regulated beyond belief…we have enough stored to take this nation through the next 200 years of its energy requirements as we have calculated it today. Why aren’t we doing it? Because the policies are being made by people who don’t have a good grasp of the reality. What are the real facts which should be used to make these decisions?  I think we’re seriously harming ourselves by not getting practical engineers in the House and the Senate. Not only nationally but in every state in the union. We’re short changing ourselves. There are too few there. Too few.

KP I’m sure. As we start wrapping up here because it is coming to the end of the interview time, I guess, what final thoughts, if you haven’t gotten to share, anything that you had a burning desire to, would you like to share about OSU, the Nuclear Engineering experience, or how society and engineering really interplay?

WM I don’t believe that an industrialized society as the one we have today throughout the world can exist without high quality engineers. I have been very fortunate to be able to say, to anyone who asks me, I am an Oregon State University engineer. I don’t know of any university at any level, Ivy League or not, that can produce the kind of people who are as ready, willing and able to accept the challenges in nuclear engineering as this university and as the department we currently call Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics.  There are some equals, but none better that I have ever encountered. I have never encountered an employer who did not instantly recognize the credential that was held by a graduate of that department. I have never had any one say, “your education was inadequate.” I have never heard them say, “I have had such bad experiences with your graduates that I just have to question your capabilities.”  Never had that happen. The reverse has always been the case. Reality is the most poorly used aspect of life in today’s society. I don’t know of anyone who brings more reality to society than engineers. I am particularly pleased with Oregon State’s nuclear engineers and the health physicists that come from here, because they rely on a factual base, a science they know.  And they don’t try to fool anyone into believing that they know something they don’t know. If they place themselves in a position of responsibility, they have what it takes to do the job and I lay that almost entirely at the feet of men like Chih Wong and the faculty that doesn’t change very much at the Radiation Center. The men and women who send engineers out   from that department have given them a foundation that is equal to none other. I will always be proud of them and can see no hope for any part of a world that doesn’t see the excellence that has come from the efforts of the folks at the Radiation Center. Chih and the house that Chih built are an integral part of what’s going to be necessary, if we’re going to save this world we live in. And I would very much rather see us go forward rather than backward.

KP Excellent. Thank you.

WM You’re Welcome.