During my tour as Miss America 2023, I visited small towns like North Platte, Nebraska, but also traveled across the globe to London and Tokyo. I have walked the halls of schools like my college – the University of Wisconsin-Madison – and those of our government at local, state, and national levels. I have met people from all walks of life whose stories are as different as they are inspiring. In contrast to the typical Miss America tour, most of my year has involved visiting many of the facilities that power our nation’s homes and businesses – that is, nuclear power plants.
This summer, I visited two in Pennsylvania: the Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station and Limerick Generating Station, located in Delta and Pottstown. I left these towns with a renewed appreciation for how integral nuclear energy is to Pennsylvania’s clean energy future, contributing affordable, reliable energy to meet the Commonwealth’s needs, 24/7, 365 days a year.
From the many people I interacted with this year, one thing is common: I think there is a surprise in hearing that my passion is nuclear energy, despite the sparkly hat that I wear. There has never been a nuclear engineer to become Miss America in its 102-year history. I’m a nuclear engineering major, set to conclude my coursework by the end of this year, and I’m preparing to begin my professional journey at Constellation, where I’ll be based in Pennsylvania. During my official tour this year with the “Clean Energy – Cleaner Future” initiative, I hope I’ve shown the girls of America that they, too, can operate a nuclear power plant to power half a million homes and tackle a complex math problem in an engineering class.
As I decided on my own career path, I became aware of nuclear technology all around us. It was in my everyday life in the form of smoke detectors, or maybe the seasonings I used to cook my eggs in the morning. I saw it in the radiation treatments that helped my dad beat cancer twice and in the power plants creating clean electricity for 20% of America.
It has been a moving experience watching people recognize the potential of nuclear energy, like this summer when I spoke at Nuclear Powers Pennsylvania’s screening of “Nuclear Now” in Harrisburg. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend watching it to get a crash course on the current social climate surrounding nuclear energy in America. A few weeks later, I saw how Peach Bottom benefits Pennsylvania’s communities, generating enough clean energy to power nearly two million homes.
Why does nuclear energy matter to the future of America? Pennsylvania’s Climate Action Plan calls for a 26% greenhouse gas reduction by 2025 and an 80% reduction by 2050. Nationally, clean energy goals are even more ambitious, with a net-zero target of 2050. To meet these goals, we need a reliable solution that can meet our energy demands while still protecting our access to clean air and clean water.
In Pennsylvania, nuclear energy avoids more than 36 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year and accounts for 92% of the Commonwealth’s clean electricity. More broadly, nuclear power is the largest source of clean energy in the U.S. and provides nearly one-fifth of the nation’s electricity.
With growing bipartisan support, states like Pennsylvania are embracing nuclear energy as a building block of the energy system of tomorrow. Power plants like Peach Bottom and Limerick supply electricity to Pennsylvania’s businesses across all industries, offering significant revenue that funds vital public services and spurs community investment.
Pennsylvania is also a hub for nuclear innovation. In 2023, the Commonwealth became the site of the nation’s first nuclear-powered Bitcoin mine as well as a future data center, while continuing to make strides toward complementary hydrogen technology. The first new nuclear build project in more than 30 years at Plant Vogtle in Georgia utilizes Pennsylvania-headquartered Westinghouse Electric Company’s next-generation AP1000 technology.
Meeting our nation’s climate goals will require continued investment in innovation. This is needed in advanced nuclear technologies like small modular reactors, and in the next generation of diverse, skilled industry workers. Nuclear power plants support about 475,000 jobs in states across the nation and 4,500 right here in Pennsylvania. As of March 2024, I will be joining the nuclear workforce in Pennsylvania. Today’s learners will soon be the leaders in developing the technologies of tomorrow. By supporting the diverse range of opportunities for purpose-driven careers that the nuclear power industry offers, we can shape our clean energy future.
Long after my role as Miss America concludes, I’m hopeful that the result of nuclear energy advocacy will inspire the next generation of leaders to foster a brighter future for American energy. But as my year as Miss America draws to a close and my career as a nuclear engineer begins, I know one thing for certain: America’s energy future is brighter when nuclear power is at its center.