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Laura Krantz Simplifies Science in Wild Thing: Going Nuclear

Sl_1 nuclear reactor site before the explosion
Sl_1 nuclear reactor site before the explosion Argonne National Laboratory
Laura Krantz started a podcast in 2018 called Wild Thing, in which she investigates topics and conspiracies that have always been a mystery to most of us. The star of the first season was Bigfoot; her second season, in 2020, investigated extraterrestrial life, with Krantz talking to both believers and cynics.

Last month the Denver resident launched the third season, which focuses on the unknowns of nuclear reactors — specifically, the mystery of the SL_1 nuclear reactor, which blew up at a research facility in Idaho, where Krantz is from.

Throughout the season, Krantz will give listeners a (basic) science lesson in atoms and isotopes, discuss the horrific results of nuclear reactors in places such as Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and dive into some of the theories regarding the explosion of the SL_1 plant that resulted in the death of three men.

She'll also consider whether the risks of nuclear energy outweigh the potential benefits of its cleaniness compared to fossil fuels. "The potential future is, with climate change, we are trying to figure out more non-fossil fuel sources for energy, and nuclear is constantly being touted as one of these possibilities," she says. "It burns very cleanly."
click to enlarge Wild Thing: Going Nuclear Art - FOXTOPUS
Wild Thing: Going Nuclear Art
Foxtopus
Krantz dedicated her third season to the topic of nuclear power because she wanted to learn more. "I’ve been surrounded by this stuff my whole life, and I don’t know shit about it," she admits. "If I was going to be hearing about this stuff, and it was going to be in conversations about energy and climate change, I should probably figure out how this stuff works.”

And it was tougher than she anticipated. "I won’t lie — there were a few tears, because I was like, 'I don’t get this,'" she recalls. "I worked with Dr. Pete Markowitz. He was instrumental in breaking it down for me and explaining how nuclear science works. It was hard. It was not something I was familiar with, and I was definitely looking at videos for kids on how this stuff works."

But Krantz pressed on, because she feels it's important that people understand the science. For example,  Denver is brimming with far more nuclear radiation than most people realize. “I think one of the things that will make Denver residents interested is I spent part of the episode in the mountains in Golden with a local geophysicist," Krantz notes. "We spent a lot of time talking about background radiation, which, if you live in Denver, you get a lot of. The ground beneath our feet is loaded with radioactive materials."

According to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, about half of the homes in Colorado have a higher level of radon, a radioactive gas that is colorless and odorless, than the Environmental Protection Agency's recommended action level.

As she investigated natural background radiation, nuclear reactors, and the risks and rewards of nuclear energy, Krantz found her opinions changing. "I really did go back and forth quite a bit on this, trying to figure out: Is this the way forward? Should we do this?" she recalls. "I was leaning in the pro direction; then, with the war in Ukraine and the bombarding of that nuclear power plant in Ukraine, I was like, 'Shit. That doesn’t show we’re very responsible.'"

Ultimately, Krantz suggests, if people want to try using nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuels, then they should. "In communities where they’re willing to take the risks and really want to give this a try, I really think they should move forward with that," she says. "There are always going to be pros and cons and environmental pluses and minuses in the technology we choose. I think nuclear, at least, should be given a shot, but I also understand why people are nervous about it."

Although Krantz has other ideas swirling around for the next season of the podcast, right now she's focused on the book based on the first season of Wild Thing, which will be released in October. The book will be geared to children from nine to thirteen years old — but adults can read it, too.

Krantz is happy to be simplifying big topics and making science more accessible. "I think it’s important for people to understand how science works," she concludes. "It’s part of the fabric of life."

Stream Wild Thing: Going Nuclear anywhere podcasts are available; new episodes are released every Tuesday.
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