When Shelley Kugler steps out of Salem County – home of PSEG Nuclear – and tells people what she does for a living, she often gets the same reaction.
People don’t necessarily process the fact that she’s the first female vice president in the history of PSEG Nuclear. They’re stunned that the state actually has nuclear power plants.
“I can tell you the first reaction whenever I tell anybody I work at the nuclear power plant,” Kugler said. “They’re like, ‘What?’
“I say, ‘The nuclear power plant, the one in New Jersey?’
“And they’re like, ‘We have a nuclear power plant in New Jersey?’”
Three, in fact: Salem 1, Salem 2 and Hope Creek.
And that‘s a good thing.
In an era of constant message about the need for solar and offshore wind, nuclear power generates 50% of carbon-free electricity in the country – a number that jumps to 90% of the carbon-free power in the state of New Jersey, Kugler said.
The New Jersey facility produces the third-highest amount of energy of any nuclear facility in the country.
The fact few people know it exists likely is both good and bad, Kugler surmised.
“It’s a good thing because we’re operating safely and event free better than we’ve ever operated in the history of nuclear – so we’re doing a great job to stay off the radar,” she said.
But, if people don’t know about the plants, they don’t know about all the safety rules and regulations that are in place that are keeping them safe, Kugler said.
“They probably don’t understand the redundancies, all of the things that are built in for us to perform that safely and event-free every day,” she said.
“We expect excellence out of everybody. There’s a very high standard. And we don’t accept anything less. It’s not OK to make mistakes here.”
Kugler, who has worked at the facility for nearly three decades, said she herself is a perfect example of the safety precautions that exist at the facility.
“If I have to explain to people, or really get the point across about how safe nuclear is, I tell them: Radiologists, people that work at the hospital, are getting more doses of radiation in a year than I’m getting in my lifetime.
“We’ve proven that we’re predictable, we’re cost effective and we’re safe. That’s what I would tell him.”
Right after she tells them the state actually has nuclear power plants.