In an effort to build application into what can be an obscure and frightening topic, chemistry teachers at Ellison High School brought in the U.S. Navy.
On Thursday, a pair of Navy recruiters spoke to six chemistry classes about the benefits of nuclear power and the science behind nuclear reactor operation.
It’s no easy task to find presenters in the field of chemistry, so teacher Jennifer Lapierre referred to Adam Raske and Kyule Yoder as royalty.
Raske, an electrician, and Yoder, a mechanic, explained that nuclear power is a clean, safe, readily available source of energy that is growing in use.
They explained that nuclear power plants heat water through a process called fission in which uranium atoms split, creating steam that drives turbine generators and creates electricity.
Nuclear power propels Naval submarines and aircraft carriers and is growing in public acceptance, the two presenters said.
A nuclear power plant employs four types of workers, Yoder said. One controls and monitors plant operations.
Other specialists, he said, are electricians, mechanics and chemists.
“We do use nuclear power around us,” said Raske, naming plants in Texas.
New York City, he said, generates about 80 percent of its power from nuclear sources.
The speakers also addressed the fear factors associated with nuclear power. The nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979, the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 in what is now the Ukraine and the earthquake-triggered nuclear accident at Fukushima, Japan, in 2011 spark concern.
Mistakes in design and engineering factored into the disasters at Chernobyl and Japan, they said.
The meltdown at the American plant actually resulted in no deaths or injuries.
Ellison chemistry teacher Mandy Morris said she invited the Navy spokesmen to teach benefits of nuclear power and to dispel myths that breed fear about the energy source.
“We are here to talk to civilians about nuclear power,” Raske said. “We want to give them knowledge. We would love for them to come away understanding that nuclear power is safe and is a viable energy source.”
“We wanted them to learn the chemistry behind it,” said Lapierre, another teacher whose classes heard the presentation.
“It’s really difficult to find speakers on this topic,” she said. “They are royalty to us. We’re honored they would come speak to our students.”
The teachers said the Navy recruiters also showed the relevance of chemistry to the future job market in engineering and mechanical fields.
Yoder said there are nuclear power-related jobs in the private sector that pay $120,000 a year to start.