Third Time’s a Charm: National Nuclear Science Week Hits Stride

Issue 2 and Volume 5.

By Margie Jepson, Entergy Nuclear

It was a simple idea – tell the nuclear story.

Doing a better job of telling the nuclear story is something that has plagued the nuclear industry since the days of Three Mile Island. Fear of legal reprimand, regulatory-statement-rigor and other pressures have impaired the profession and advocates for decades from getting out the good, simple truths about nuclear: Nuclear science has advanced our society.

Nuclear Energy Institute President and CEO Marv Fertel addresses students at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Photos courtesy of Entergy.

Then came National Nuclear Science Week.

Started in 2009 by the National Museum for Nuclear Science and History, the week is a celebration of medical innovation, clean nuclear electricity, nuclear science research and educating students and teachers on nuclear advancements and careers. Three years later the list of national partners is impressive and includes support from the Department of Energy Secretary and Nobel prize-winning physicist, Dr. Stephen Chu. Take these facts into consideration:

  • Nuclear generated electricity avoids almost 650 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year in the U.S. This is nearly as much carbon dioxide as is released from all U.S. passenger cars. Worldwide nuclear energy avoids on average the emissions of about 2.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.
  • In 2010 an estimated 17 million patients received nuclear medicine scans in over 7,300 hospital and non-hospital sites, or approximately 72,000 patients daily. More than 100 different nuclear medicine imaging procedures are available, and every major organ system can be imaged.
  • The technology for the world’s first nuclear- powered submarine was pioneered at the Idaho National Laboratory. From 1953 to 1994, thousands of sailors in Admiral Rickover’s Nuclear Navy trained there using full-scale submarine prototype reactors.

Nuclear Science Day at the Illinois Institute of Technology

Taking the nuclear message to college, Nuclear Science Day was celebrated at the Illinois Institute of Technology mid-week of National Nuclear Science Week on Jan. 25. More than 175 local high school students heard live what classrooms around the country heard via a national day-long webcast from the National Science Teachers Association. With NSTA as a partner, the American Nuclear Society, Exelon, Argonne National Laboratory, Entergy, the Nuclear Energy Institute and Pop Atomic Studios came together with IIT to promote careers in the sciences and gain new understandings for nuclear.

“The day provided stimulating conversations for students across the country,” said Jim Walther, the director of the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History. “The part I liked best was hearing students’ questions. The future is bright with these young minds engaged in nuclear science careers in the future, I believe.”

Students partake in the creation of “Atomic Art” with the assistance of Pop Atomic Studios.

The IIT event was opened with “Green Power for a Digital World” with Natalie Wood, engineer at Entergy’s River Bend Nuclear Power Station in Louisiana. “Electricity has a huge impact on our quality of life. Think about how it’s improved your life – how it is a normal part of every hour of your day. Providing base load 24/7 electricity is what Americans expect. Nuclear is a clean source to do that – especially when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow,” she said. “And a nuclear power plant is a great place for young people to work. There are tremendous opportunities with high-paying jobs. From day one, when you walk in, they’ll ask what you think.”

Promoting careers and what’s “cool” about nuclear science, Mark Peters, Deputy Director for Programs, Argonne National Laboratory, noted, “Using some of the world’s fastest supercomputers, working with physicists, chemists and even social scientists, it’s a really exciting place to be. Nuclear won’t just ‘go away’.”

More to be done

Even as the slate of world-class speakers educated and enthralled, there was more. Pop Atomic Studios had an art exhibit and a chance for students to make their own “atomic art.” The Nuclear Clean Air Energy IndyCar #78 and IndyCar driver Simona De Silvestro were also there to talk nuclear with students and visitors.

These kinds of new outreach efforts have value. Pairing nuclear energy with the positive associations of IndyCar and telling the nuclear story through creative artwork is a mainstream approach that has been missing and more is needed.

Post-Fukushima, NEI reports public opinion polling from November 2011: The public survey finds 62 percent in favor of nuclear energy and 35 percent opposed. For plant neighbors, 80 percent of those Americans favor nuclear energy, and 19 percent are opposed. In the context of continuing news from Japan, these findings confirm that American and plant neighbor support is broad and deep.

Surprised? The facts are strong in support of nuclear, even after Fukushima. I mean, wouldn’t politicians love to have a 60+ percent favorability number!

But there is more to be done, certainly. This year, National Nuclear Science Week saw celebrations from Savannah to Excelsior College to Idaho and more. This is a good start and it seems that after three years, the effort is just hitting their stride. Hats off to the National Museum for Nuclear Science and History and all the partners for their efforts that are making a difference. Learn more at and join the party. They’re just getting started.

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