Nuclear Science in Our Everyday Lives: By Dr. Susan Winsor
Employers and educators in our region are coming together this week (October 20 – 24) to observe Nuclear Science Week, celebrating the benefits and opportunities that nuclear energy creates for America every day.
Unseen and too often unheralded, nuclear science supports nearly all our everyday activities. From electricity to power homes and businesses, to tools for sophisticated medical diagnosis, to the high degree of security we enjoy as a nation -nuclear technology plays a constant and vital role in our daily lives.
Importantly, nuclear technology is also the source of thousands of jobs and a strong foundation for our regional economy. World-renowned scientists and researchers at the Savannah River National Laboratory are developing advanced and innovative technologies. New nuclear power plants provide employment for thousands of engineers, technicians, welders and construction workers while addressing long-term energy needs of our region. Area colleges and universities have implemented unique and well regarded programs to supply the needed highly-skilled workforce.
The spotlight shines on all these benefits at once during Nuclear Science Week. It is a week of collaboration among many partners – educational institutions, commercial nuclear facilities and government operations – all brought together under the auspices of the SRS Community Reuse Organization and its nuclear workforce manager, Mindy Mets.
Thanks to a broad cooperative effort, our region has one of the most robust Nuclear Science Week observances in the entire country. During the coming week, a host of activities are planned to bring greater awareness of nuclear technology and the many careers available within nuclear technology and other high-tech industries.
Activities include a series of education days at the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center in Aiken and Georgia Regents University in Augusta. Among the featured topics are a “Journey to the Center of the Atom” and the fundamentals of nuclear fuel. Area students will also tour the region’s two commercial nuclear power plants – Southern Company’s Plant Vogtle in Waynesboro, Georgia, and the V.C. Summer Plant operated by SCANA in Jenkinsville, SC. Area educators will have a unique tour of the Savannah River Site.
On Monday, Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness will host its annual Edward Teller Lecture at the USC Aiken Convocation Center. The guest speaker is Oscar-nominated director Robert Stone, who directed the widely acclaimed 2013 nuclear documentary “Pandora’s Promise”.
A highlight of the week will occur on Thursday when high school juniors and seniors from throughout the region will gather at the Kroc Center in Augusta for an interactive forum focused on career pathways built on Science, Engineering, Technology and Math – collectively known as STEM -- skills.
During the forum students, teachers, guidance counselors and career specialists will interact with current professionals in nuclear technology and other high-tech industries, learn about the hottest career opportunities in our region and view informative exhibits.
Part of this year’s focus centers on attracting more students – particularly females -- to the STEM curricula. In 2012, women earned 57 percent of bachelor's degrees in the U.S., according to the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. But women earned just 43 percent of math degrees, 19 percent of engineering degrees and 18 percent of computer science degrees. The only STEM field where women outpaced men was in science, at 55 percent.
Today’s students can anticipate many future job opportunities in our region, but they must be prepared to become part of the well-trained and educated workforce our community needs. To take full advantage, students must begin early to establish strong math and science skills and gain an understanding of the fulfilling and prosperous career choices that are available.
Meeting the challenge of building our future nuclear workforce requires that regionalism must be our watchword. We must join together as a region -- economic developers, educators, elected officials, business leaders and citizens -- to ensure we have a workforce prepared to enter rewarding nuclear and other high-tech careers throughout the region.
We salute the efforts of the many local organizations spearheading this year’s observance of Nuclear Science Week, and expect the awareness that it generates to serve our region well now and in the future.