Students exposed to nuclear industry

WAYNESBORO, Ga. - It's not often you can get a group of high schoolers out of bed before 8 a.m. during the summer.

But that's exactly what more than two dozen ninth-graders from Burke County did this week at the Electric Energy Career and Leadership Academy, spending their mornings with hard hats, turbines and nuclear reactors.

"It's been pretty cool," student Heather Wells said.

The program, which featured a trip to the Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant, was an opportunity for program sponsor Southern Co. to educate students on nuclear technology and encourage them to consider jobs at Plant Vogtle.

"A lot of our employees are reaching retirement age in the next 10 years," said Ellie Daniel, a spokesman for Southern Nuclear Operating Co., the Southern Co. subsidiary that operates Plant Vogtle.

Mr. Daniel said the average age of workers at the plant is 52, so they hope to "pique interest" among students.

The program is the first of its kind for Southern Nuclear, which hopes to expand the program to Southern Co.'s other nuclear plants.

The program also was sponsored by Southern Co.'s Georgia Power, the Burke County School Board, Augusta Technical College in Waynesboro and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 84.

Selected by their teachers and principles to participate, students spent some days in a classroom at Augusta Tech, hearing electricians, engineers and others at the plant talk about their jobs.

Students, who researched and presented their own projects, also heard and discussed topics ranging from the inner workings of the plant to ethics and safety.

On Friday, students got a tour of the plant and spent time in a control room simulator, where operational training instructor Perry Tucker simulated a pipe break as alarms flashed and sirens wailed.

"Think of this as the best video game system in the state of Georgia," he said jokingly.

Although some students weren't sure a career in nuclear technology is for them, others, including Stephanie Farmer, were at least interested in the prospect.

Though she would like to become a writer, Stephanie said she realized the plant has a large variety of jobs to offer, even ones that involve writing.

"I think this has been very beneficial for us - in the future and for us now," she said. "We've learned a lot this week, and that was worth every ounce of sleep I lost."

Reach Laura Youngs at (706) 823-3227 or laura.youngs@augustachronicle.com.

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