No, not Homer Simpson’s version of Green Nuclear Energy
Of late, I’ve been doing a great deal of communication about nuclear power to journalists in various mediums, including newspapers, TV’s and blogs. Last week, I spent some time with Kevin Voigt at CNN talking about Fukushima and the nuclear renaissance. It was an interesting, and fairly long interview. Of course, he could only use a portion of our discussion in his final article.
It was a philosophical discussion about nuclear power and Mr. Voigt was interested in why I became a nuclear engineer in the first place. Of course, our discussion was only a part of his article and so, much of that story didn’t end up in the article. I think that story might be interesting for others to hear.
I’m from a small town in Iowa and went to Iowa State University in 1977 straight out of high school. In the prior decade we had experienced two oil embargos that crippled the nation’s economy and put our dependence on foreign oil in sharp focus. We were also suffering from acid rain and the other effects of nitrous oxides and sulfur dioxide emissions from coal plants. I went to college determined to make a difference.
So how did I get into nuclear power? Well, in high school my first exposure was to write papers about the structure of the atom and the devastating effects of the atom bomb in Japan. Not your typical papers for a high school student, but it’s probably an early indicator of my fundamental engineering nature. When I got to Iowa State, I did not initially declare a major, joining what was then the college of Science and Humanities, I considered a major in applied math or physics. Then I heard about the new undergraduate program in nuclear engineering. It was a way to learn about a technology that was used for weapons and was now being used for producing emissions free energy for the world.
I joined the program in the spring of my freshman year and four years later in 1981 graduated with a shiny new Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Engineering. It was a fascinating journey that combined my love of math and physics with a field that I felt was contributing to making the world a truly better place to live.
I’ve always considered myself to be an environmentalist supporting an energy source that is the most responsible in the world. We track our waste from cradle to grave and work to prevent ANY of it from reaching the public. There are few other industries that can make that claim. Certainly the ecologic impacts of coal, oil, and natural gas have continued to plague us with their atmospheric emissions as well as the solid waste and impacts of extracting these sources from the environment.
Even when one looks at the impacts of Fukushima, Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island, nuclear energy is one of the safest and cleanest forms of electricity production on the planet. I am proud to be a part of that industry.