Share This

PPL Program Teaches Teachers About Nuclear Energy

Nuclear Energy Insight

Fall 2012—Twenty Pennsylvania school teachers spent a week on the other side of the desk last summer—learning about nuclear energy, other nuclear technologies and operations at the Susquehanna nuclear energy facility.

PPL hosts the Nuclear Energy Seminar for Teachers, or NEST, at its Susquehanna Energy Information Center. The program is a five-day whirlwind that includes plant tours, lectures, discussions and classroom exercises, giving K-12 teachers the tools to take information about nuclear energy back to their schools.

“We provide them with curricula that they can take back to the classroom and implement and share with the other teachers in the school district,” said Alana Roberts, PPL’s community affairs specialist and program coordinator.

Last summer, PPL celebrated the 30th anniversary of NEST, which has educated more than 1,200 teachers. The program was initiated and developed by Joe Scopelliti, who now serves as PPL’s Susquehanna community relations manager. He joined PPL after teaching chemistry at a local high school and, knowing how little information educators had about nuclear energy, saw a gap ready to be filled.

That demand has not abated. Roberts said that the program is filled, with a waiting list. NEST draws science teachers from a number of disciplines, including chemistry, physics and environmental science.

Participants come into the program with varying levels of nuclear knowledge. Some teachers may be plant neighbors who are well-aware of Susquehanna’s contribution to the state’s electricity profile, while other, more far-flung participants may not know that nuclear energy generates 33 percent of Pennsylvania’s electricity and almost all of its emissions-free power.

PPL regularly adds new topics to the curriculum, keeping the information fresh. The company allows participants to retake the course every five years to learn what’s new in the industry and at Susquehanna station.

Roberts said there is growing interest in a comparison of nuclear to other forms of electrical generation, so PPL incorporated a unit on renewable energy and organized a trip to a local wind farm.

Recent events in the nuclear industry also shape the program’s focus.

“We’re just beginning to speak about what changes are going to come about from the Fukushima incident and how that’s going to translate into changes at U.S. reactors and in particular about Susquehanna,” Roberts said.

She said that one of this year’s unexpected highlights was a presentation on nuclear job opportunities.

“We had a terrific back-and-forth two-hour session on what job opportunities are available, what are up-and-coming job opportunities,” she said, “not only at PPL, but in the nuclear industry.” The nuclear industry has filled 41,100 jobs since 2005.

PPL is seeing the effects of new faces in the industry, and NEST has begun to reflect the generational change taking place throughout the industry. Recent hires help to shape the future of the program in the wake of several retirements. This year, former students of Bloomsburg University Professor David Simpson, NEST’s lead instructor, are working at PPL and serving as instructors themselves.

Read more articles in Nuclear Energy Insight and Insight Web Extra.