How does energy work and how is electricity generated? You can find the answers at any of the four energy education centers at Duke Energy nuclear plants in the Carolinas.
The newest education center in Duke Energy’s fleet opened this year, the Brunswick Energy & Education Center at Brunswick Nuclear Plant near Southport, N.C.
The center features about 3,000 square feet of exhibits on nuclear science, electricity, carbon-free energy and Brunswick Nuclear Plant. Brunswick is Duke Energy’s only boiling water reactor type of nuclear plant, so the center has unique displays, including a scale model of the plant. The model is one of the few items saved from the original education center, which was damaged during Hurricane Florence and demolished in 2018.
“What our education centers offer is an opportunity to explore and improve people’s mental models about how energy is generated and how we can improve to be more carbon-free,” said Karen Williams, lead communications manager. “Especially when it comes to nuclear energy, most have ideas that are outdated or inaccurate. At one of our centers, community members can explore ideas, ask questions, and talk with people who work at our plants.”
The center is open to visitors by appointment only.
When nuclear plants were first being built more than 50 years ago, education centers were often established before construction was finished, allowing communities to learn about nuclear science, operations and safety.
The early staffers were science teachers, plant operators and public relations practitioners who taught electricity classes to students, provided plant tours to civic groups and elected officials and planned events.
After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, security was tightened at power plants across the nation. Education centers at Robinson Nuclear Plant and Catawba Nuclear Station in South Carolina were closed.
“Education and advocacy for nuclear energy is just as important today as it was when our sites were first built,” said Preston Gillespie, Duke Energy executive vice president, chief generation officer and enterprise operational excellence. “As we look to achieving our net-zero carbon goals, these centers are opportunities for neighbors, students and the public to learn about how nuclear energy is our only source of baseload, carbon-free generation. As we look to new nuclear technologies, these centers will continue to play a role in our overall business strategy.”
Here’s a look at Duke Energy’s other education centers.
EnergyExplorium at McGuire Nuclear Station
The largest engineered lake in North Carolina, Lake Norman was created between 1959 and 1964 as part of the construction of the Cowans Ford Dam. The lake is home to Marshall Steam Station and McGuire Nuclear Station in Huntersville, N.C. The EnergyExplorium was opened at McGuire in 1981.
In addition to exhibits about the environment, weather, electricity, the nuclear energy, visitors can hike a 1-mile wooded trail and view the butterfly garden. The EnergyExplorium is open by appointment only.
“Some of my best memories at the company were working weekends at the EnergyExplorium in the early ’90s,” said Paige Layne, director of employee communications. “Back then, we were open seven days a week and on weekends we might host more than 300 drop-in guests, including lots of kids, and they loved Ben, the friendly black snake that for years provided us an opportunity to talk about our environmental lab and the work we did on and around the lake to protect the ecosystem. Ben moved to the World of Energy in the mid-’90s where, I’ve heard, he had a long and pampered life.”
Energy & Environmental Center at Harris Nuclear Plant
In 1979, eight years before the Harris Nuclear Plant began commercial operation, the Energy & Environmental Center was opened with a mission to develop and maintain favorable attitudes about the nuclear plant. Since then, thousands of visitors have come through the center in New Hill, N.C. Many are students or from civic and professional clubs. Harris Community Day has allowed thousands of neighbors to meet employees and better understand how nuclear energy is generated.
“As Duke Energy transitions to even cleaner energy sources, nuclear energy will continue to be a tremendous part of that energy mix,” said communications manager Mary Kathryn Green. “Our nuclear education centers create opportunities to support hands-on energy education and host special events for both students and adults, civic clubs and local government officials.”
World of Energy at Oconee Nuclear Station
Duke Energy’s first nuclear education center, the World of Energy at Oconee Nuclear Station in Seneca, S.C., was opened in 1969. The plant began producing electricity in 1973.
Bill Lee, Duke Power’s vice president of engineering and construction in the late 1960s, is credited with much of the vision behind the center. World of Energy highlighted the massive construction project that surrounded Oconee and the Keowee-Toxaway Hydroelectric Project.
Ron Harris' high school junior chemistry class toured the World of Energy education center in 1970 and, that launched his interest in becoming a nuclear engineer.
“More than 250,000 guests visited the World of Energy during its first year of operation,” said Mikayla Kreuzberger, lead communications manager. “Since then, we continue to welcome thousands of first-time visitors who want to learn more about Oconee Nuclear Station, as well as knowledgeable neighbors who continue to use the facility as a place to showcase Oconee and the upstate to their friends and family.”
World of Energy’s picnic shelter overlooks Lake Keowee and there’s a boat dock and fishing pier.