The story of how I became a Nuclear Tourist starts over thirty years ago in Atlanta, Georgia circa 1980. My dad, a newly minted Nuclear Engineer got the assignment of a lifetime- 3 months in Japan to help evaluate uranium exploration and development options for their nuclear fuel. His then employer even suggested that he should bring my mom- since at the time they were newly weds and hadn’t had a proper honeymoon. My mom took leave from her job as a Social Worker and off to Tokyo they went for 3 months.
5 years later, they finally moved home to Atlanta with my brother and I in tow.
I’m guessing that if you work in the nuclear industry you are either laughing and/or nodding in agreement- perhaps knowing several families with similar stories. Maybe you’ve even had similar experiences.
Nuclear: It’s a Family Business
Something I want to touch on is that nuclear is my family business. I am a second generation nuclear professional and have an uncle who works as a Health Physicist, a first cousin who is currently working toward his degree in Nuclear Engineering, and a 2nd cousin who just retired from the industry. Very often the way one gets into the nuclear business is learning about it through friends and family members, because if you are only judging from cultural cues and media reports, you would probably assume that the nuclear industry is not a very nice place to work.
My story represents another more personal reality of what it is to be a part of a nuclear family (pardon the pun- and hat tip to Gwyneth Cravens for being the first to give the Hobbs family this title). From my birth in Japan, to childhood travels to China, Africa and Europe- being a part of a nuclear family has also meant being a “Nuclear Tourist.” My childhood was one of active learning, a skill that I am incredibly grateful for as an adult, and am able to use everyday in my work. The nuclear business has provided my Dad with a career that he is still passionate about today, incredible opportunities for my whole family to see the world and an understanding and comfort with science and technology.
These are the stories that the media misses- and these are the stories I am eager to hear from other nuclear professionals and families to document on the “Nuclear Tourist” page. In addition to delivering the facts about the different nuclear sites I visit, I hope to discover personal connections, stories and experiences.
A second generation of nuclear professional
In an experience that is already well chronicled, I conducted my first nuclear reactor site visit for a school project nearly 15 years ago, reporting back to my classmates on my findings.
Since then I have dedicated my career to arts-integrated education about nuclear energy through the formation of the 501(c)3 organization PopAtomic Studios, and our educational outreach program, the Nuclear Literacy Project. Two years ago my status as nuclear professional was sealed when I was accepted as member of the American Nuclear Society- a very proud moment for me as a visual artist and small business owner.
A few months ago my husband, a mechatronic engineer for the auto industry, asked if I wanted to go with him to Germany for 3 months for work. Of course my first thought was, “Oh no. I’m not leaving my job like my Mom did…I know how that turns out!” – but I quickly realized what a great opportunity it would be for me to go check out some European nuclear sites and advance my knowledge. I always do better seeing things first hand.
There is a lot of interesting symbolism in this trip and in my husband and I’s respective professional goals. First of all we will be based in Germany, a country that is currently shuttering its nuclear plants and struggling to continue to meet the energy demands of their robust manufacturing sector. Secondly, he is being trained to become a technical expert on hybrid vehicle batteries- a technology that stands to reduce vehicle emissions exponentially, especially if tied into a carbon-free source of electricity on the grid, like say, nuclear power! I like to think of our careers as working to solve two aspects of the same problem.
You will probably be hearing a lot about my husband throughout this blog series, so I’ll just go ahead and make a formal introduction: This is Ted, my wonderful partner. If you like the work we are doing at PopAtomic Studio and the Nuclear Literacy Project- thank this guy. There is no way I’d be doing this job if I hadn’t had his support from day one.
A big THANKS to our sponsors!
Finally, this project would not be possible without the generous support of our sponsors: AREVA, Fuel Cycle Week and American Crane. A little less than three years ago AREVA gave me one of my first design jobs for the “Energizing Earth Day” campaign. It was an incredible gesture for a huge multinational company to collaborate with a small nonprofit organization. When I came up with the concept for “Nuclear Tourist” they were the first people I contacted. And again, they have truly gone above and beyond in supporting this first of kind project. I would like to personally thank Curtis Roberts for his patience and guidance in making this project happen. I would also like to thank Andrea Jennetta and Fuel Cycle Week for their support, advice and enthusiasm. And thank you for your commitment to supporting grassroots educational efforts! And lastly, to Karen Norheim and our long time sponsor American Crane- thank you for all of that you have done and continue to do to ensure the success of the Nuclear Literacy Project. We absolutely could not do it with out you!