I am very excited to have the opportunity to share a little bit of my insight and passion for the nuclear industry through my blog entries. My goal is to give you a glimpse into the world of being a nuclear engineer, my chosen career path.
I work as an Operations Readiness Engineer for Southern Company at Plant Vogtle Units 3 & 4, the first new nuclear units to begin construction in the U.S. in more than 3 decades. This company is the perfect fit for me as I start the journey of my career in nuclear engineering. I can make this claim with more certainty than most recent grads as I’ve already completed 6 co-op jobs in the industry, which have each provided me with an overview of what the nuclear engineering field has to offer. I have worked at a Pressurized Water Reactor and a Boiling Water Reactor, the two types of commercial reactors in the U.S. In addition, I have completed co-op jobs in a core design group and in a research lab in Germany specializing in nuclear safety. Although I am still at the start of my professional career, I have already learned a great deal about nuclear power and the electric power industry and I am confident that I am at the right place for me.
I grew up in Ohio about an hour and a half drive from the nearest nuclear plant, something I never really thought about. I do remember thinking about it sometimes when I would go fishing with my family on the lake. The ever-present ‘cloud’ of condensed water vapor from its cooling tower made it easy to find my way back to the dock where we had put the boat in. In addition to the location, I can vividly remember one other thing that I learned in my childhood about the plant: if it blew up, I would die within minutes, even if I were at home over an hour away. This was a frightening thought for a young boy and it was also completely false. I didn’t know it at the time, but as I have grown up, I have grown more knowledgeable about the reality of nuclear energy and how little most people know about it.
My story about how I came to choose nuclear engineering as my career path started outside my high school physics classroom with a curious kid reading a bulletin board. The flyer attached to the bulletin board was advertising “a fast-track to a challenging and rewarding career,” and this was just what I was looking for! I copied down the contact information on the poster, and immediately headed down to the University of Cincinnati (UC) to talk with a nuclear engineering professor about the program. The curriculum sounded very interesting so I chose to give it a try.
Although I was still completely undecided about what I actually wanted to do when I started college, I knew that engineering was a versatile major where engineers learn to problem solve, and even non-engineering jobs can use that skill. A particular advantage about the program at UC was that it was a mandatory co-op school, which meant that I would have to work in the engineering field multiple times before I could graduate. I knew I would get a chance to try out my intended major early on to see if it was a good fit for me. This is exactly what I did and it went even better than I expected. It was interesting, fun, the people were great, and I saw first-hand how the science of fissioning an atom and releasing energy could be safely applied to make electricity for me in my home. That kind of application, taking concepts like I learned in school and making something tangible out of them, is what I wanted to do.
Nuclear engineering takes the nucleus of an atom, whose very name means indivisible, and splits it to allow us to beneficially use the energy within. That’s so fascinating; and that is why I’m here. That is why I can go to my job everyday and continue to be intrigued by this process and the future in store for it. From a flyer in my high school hallway to the newest nuclear plant in decades, I feel very satisfied to be pursuing my career goals as a nuclear engineer and I look forward to the challenges ahead.