We’re celebrating Women’s History Month this March by introducing you to 10 women who help power your life at Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas. They advance our company with their vision, talent, hard work and creativity. These trailblazing women – including a nuclear engineer, astrophysicist and lineman – reveal inspiring stories of persistence, pluck and achievement in largely male-dominated fields. A diverse workplace isn’t just a nice idea, it’s a competitive necessity. Today, meet Tanya Hamilton, site vice president of the Harris Nuclear Plant based in New Hill N.C.
You’re a nuclear engineer who runs a nuclear plant, but what did you dream of being when you were 9 years old?
Believe it or not, at that age I wanted to be a nuclear engineer! There was a gas crisis at the time, so energy was at the forefront of the media. So when I was a little girl, I was trying to figure out some way to generate limitless fuel.
So this was always your destiny, then?
It seems that way. I’ve always loved math and science, and when I was young my parents were tireless in trying to engulf me in all kinds of STEM experiences and exposure. Now remember, this was the 1970s when those kinds of enrichment experiences weren’t as common as they are now. I was going to college math seminars and weekend science camps. My parents were instrumental in creating a deep-seated curiosity in me from a very young age that has fueled my entire life. I was curious about everything, and they would stoke that curiosity. How do birds fly and how do motors work? They gave me answers and encouraged me to ask more questions.
What does your workday look like?
No two days are alike. Some days I’m working on long-term asset management to ensure the longevity of our plant, then I might transition to development of our most valuable resource – our people to broader roles. Other days I might be traveling to Charlotte to sponsor the Nuclear Diversity and Inclusion Council or support a fleetwide summit for projects.
You’re a trailblazer at Duke Energy, right?
I’m the first female nuclear plant site vice president. I’ve worked in the nuclear energy industry for almost 25 years.
Why is your work important?
We bring a fundamental resource to the nation, and I’m very proud of that. Imagine what the nation would be like without reliable power. We would not enjoy the freedoms as Americans we now enjoy. We bring a stable infrastructure to the United States.
What do people not understand about nuclear energy?
A nuclear reaction happens at a subatomic level. You have to believe in it because you can’t see it. I find pure awe and wonder in that. Also the positive ways in which nuclear energy impacts people’s lives. We are raising awareness of the benefits of nuclear energy and its potential for good. Whether it’s building butterfly habitats, or the way we encourage STEM development in young people, we strive to enrich our communities. We bring elementary school students to visit to learn how electricity works and what happens when they flip a light switch. We teach them that what comes out of our cooling tower is not pollution but condensation, which is a fancy way of saying clouds. Sometimes we make the only clouds in the sky. Nuclear energy is also clean, green and cheap. It’s the largest source of carbon-free electricity worldwide.
Why do you do what you do?
Because I really love it. Every day’s a fresh opportunity and challenge to really make an impact and paint the canvas of the culture of our plant. It’s hard not to love our company. We work for a fantastic company. I have never interfaced with people who are more competent, compassionate, and courageous than the folks at Duke Energy. It’s an amazing company of amazing people. I’m definitely a much better person for having worked here. The help and the mentorship that has been offered to me has been pretty amazing.
“We bring a fundamental resource to the nation, and I’m very proud of that. Imagine what the nation would be like without reliable power.”