Nuclear Engineers Role in Nuclear Advocacy
When people ask me why I became a nuclear engineer I start reminiscing about all the seemingly insignificant events that led me to make this career decision.
I grew up in a family of business majors and had members of my family tell me to pursue a career in business instead of science because “there is no money in science.” Being the stubborn person that I am and the fact that I enjoy proving people wrong, I decided to ignore their advice and pursue a career that I found interesting.
It is hard to believe that my first exposure to nuclear science was in my high school chemistry class, even though I grew up less than an hour away from Wisconsin’s two nuclear power plants. Nuclear science was briefly discussed in my physics class as well, but I didn’t see it as a career opportunity, especially after the Fukushima Daiichi accident. When it was time for me to apply for college, I knew I wanted to study engineering because I thought there would be more real world application than if I studied one of the pure sciences. I also wanted to work in the energy sector in order to help America become more energy independent. I took a lot of chemistry courses in high school, so I decided I would study chemical engineering (now I know that chemistry and chemical engineering are not as similar as I thought they were).
In my freshman introduction to engineering course, nuclear engineering professor Michael Corradini gave a lecture on energy. He talked about all the different forms of energy we have available and discussed the pros and cons of each. When I saw all the different energy sources compared this way, nuclear energy seemed to be the best option. After the lecture I emailed him to see if I could talk to him about the nuclear engineering major. It was then, that I decided to change my major and I have never looked back.
“There is so much fear and political agendas entangled in the nuclear industry that I began to see it as my responsibility, as a nuclear engineer and an environmentalist, to advocate for this technology and to educate the public on nuclear energy.”
As I spent more time studying nuclear engineering, I realized it was not enough to just learn the material and pursue a career. There is so much fear and political agendas entangled in the nuclear industry that I began to see it as my responsibility, as a nuclear engineer and an environmentalist, to advocate for this technology and to educate the public on nuclear energy. Therefore, I started to take an interest in public outreach and nuclear advocacy.
I think one of my most rewarding experiences was advocating for the repeal of
a nuclear moratorium in Wisconsin. In October of 2015, the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate introduced joint bills to remove additional conditions on building new nuclear plants that made it impossible to build a nuclear power plant in Wisconsin. I acted as the liaison between the Engineering Physics Department and the Nuclear Energy Institute. I also organized students to testify in front of the Assembly Committee on Energy and Utilities and the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy. In addition, I met with my local representative’s staff (he was the chairman of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy).
Our hard work paid off. The nuclear moratorium was repealed on April 1, 2016. Everyone involved had the experience of making history, since we were the first state to repeal a nuclear moratorium. I learned so much from this experience and realized the crucial role that students will have to play if we want the nuclear industry to grow. As students, we are seen as the future of an industry and if we show up in force to testify at hearings we can make a difference.
Madison, WI has a history of being politically active, but many of the state representatives were surprised to see students at these hearings. Participating in protests or posting on social media are effective ways to advocate, but that cannot be the only way we get involved. We need to attend hearings/public meetings and talk with our representatives. Government representatives (whether on the city, state, or federal level) are supposed to represent us, their constituents.
Even though I am no longer a student, I continue to learn more about our industry everyday. We have an amazing group of people that are passionate about what they do and we need to let their voices be heard. Whether they are a student, young professional, or have been working in the industry their entire lives. My experiences have shown me that everyone has a unique perspective to share, in order to achieve the same goal of expanding nuclear power.