The New Nuclear Era: It’s Not What You Think

The fourth annual Advanced Reactors Technical Summit IV & Technology Trailblazers Showcase saw a wide range of engaging speakers from a variety of nuclear companies, start-up initiatives, and government agencies. These are people who have been in the nuclear industry for years and have found better ways to engineer things, people who know what technical and political problems need to be addressed. They have come together to overcome some of those challenges and are making terrific progress on the rest.

All the while, a different type of engagement was made by those gathered around the free coffee; those that met up for evening activities; and those that hung around to explore Chicago after the summit meeting came to a close.  Wherever you looked, those keen to take on the responsibility as the next generation of nuclear were discussing ideas and sharing information, doing so with enthusiasm and enjoyment.

How is this important you may ask? The public perception of nuclear is not very good. Nuclear energy has touted its benefits through statistics and hoped those would sway people. While others opposed to the cleanest source of energy around misconstrue facts in ways that scare people and drown out the science. They’ve been so effective in doing this that plants have been prematurely shut down. We can’t let that continue. Once we saw that there were multiple groups here we shined the bat signal and came together to fight misinformation and fear.


Student representatives discussing all things nuclear

The future of nuclear.

This wasn’t just a random group of individual students and young engineers. They were founders of nonprofits, members of nuclear groups, and activists that are actually engaging people in meaningful discussion about the role of nuclear power in society. We had Sarah Stevenson a President of Kansas State University’s American Nuclear Society, Emma Redfoot with both Mothers for Nuclear and Students for Nuclear, Tay Stevenson from Generation Atomic, Syndney Weeks from the Nuclear Infrastructure Council and myself, Alec Herbert, with 5-Minute Nuclear.

All of those are US based, what about abroad? We had no shortage of international collaboration here as well. Students and engineers from India, Ecuador, Lebanon, Costa Rica, Russia, Korea, China and the UK. They encompass everything from engineers at a national lab, doctoral students, and contributors to the aforementioned groups. 

How did all of these students manage to come together for this? They had help from Rachel Slaybaugh of the Bootcamp initiative and Canon Bryan of Terrestrial Energy. These individuals and organizations see the need for us to come together, they’re already trying to pave the way for new technology. We’re picking up the mantle to reach out to the public in ways they haven’t thought of or tried in a long time.

That’s a lot of groups trying to change the perception of nuclear energy for the better. So we made sure our goals and methods were clear to each other. We established periodic check-ins to keep us on track, co-ordinate our efforts, and to better shift with changing policies. Rita Baranwal of GAIN shared the African proverb “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Jing Hu who is the executive secretary for the international nuclear young generation organization International Youth Nuclear Congress also invited everyone to the congress in Argentina March 2018 to speak for the new generation of nuclear industry. We will go far, together.

We walked away knowing that we are fighting the same fight. One that needs to be resolved sooner rather than later. While some may be new to the fight, it doesn’t mean that they are not capable and tenacious. We’re plowing ahead, through people saying “it can’t be done” or “it’s too hard”, with an energy that even nuclear can’t match. As one of the speakers at the conference said: “Those who say it cannot be done should not stand in the way of those doing it.”

The reason that we are able to keep going and drive on in the face of insurmountable odds is that we are more than just colleagues who skype to keep tabs on one another. We have created friendships and gotten to know one another. We bring lessons learned and share information freely with one another because we know we are in this fight together. Gone are the days of bickering over target audiences, holding onto insights for a fee, and hamstringing ourselves. We want everyone to hear our messages loud and clear.

We aren’t just trying to save a nuclear plant here or there. We’re trying to ensure that every generation, current and future, always wakes up to a world that is better than yesterday’s. Each and every one of us are willing and able to share our stories and passion with you. We’re just a few clicks away.


About the Author:

Alec Herbert

An Army Ranger turned Nuclear Engineering student at Georgia Tech. Director of Media and Government Outreach for 5-Minute Nuclear. Just wants to show the world what nuclear energy can really do for them.

Student Attendees:

Emma Redfoot

Environmental Studies under-grad turned nuclear engineer graduate student.  Co-founder of Students for Nuclear and Idaho Coordinator of Mothers for Nuclear, two organizations focused on telling the stories of why and how people came around to nuclear energy as important to powering current and future generations.

Aristidis Loumis and Katie Mummah 

From the University of Illinois American Nuclear Society Section

Richard Pearson, Mark Mawdsley, and Sophie Morrison

From the EPSRC ICO Centre for Doctoral Training in Nuclear Energy (UK).

Abdalla Abou Jaoude

Lebanese Nuclear Engineering PhD student from Georgia Tech, obtained his masters from Imperial College London.

Andrea Saltos

Ecuadorian Nuclear Engineering PhD student from University of Missouri-Columbia. Secretary of the INMM MU student chapter.

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