This year’s Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas Summer Directors’ Conference, held in late July in Hot Springs, included significant pageantry.
One of the featured speakers: Miss America 2023 Grace Stanke. A nuclear engineering student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a zero-carbon advocate, Stanke’s topic was “Clean Energy, Cleaner Future.”
With an outgoing personality as sparkly as her crown, Stanke, the daughter of a civil engineer, said she became interested in nuclear engineering as a teen, despite her father’s warning that the field had no future. “So, I got into the nuclear industry out of spite against my father. … I was a teenage girl who wanted to stick it to my dad, because I’m a person who, when I see a challenge, I take it.”
But what kept her studying the field “is a different story,” she said, adding, “The first year, I learned that nuclear medicine is what saved my dad’s life twice from Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer. He’s alive and happy and healthy and retired because of nuclear medicine.”
Beyond the many medical applications, Stanke said, “Then I learned about the power field. … About 20% of America is powered by nuclear energy; 10% of the globe is powered by nuclear energy. It’s clean. It’s sustainable. Zero-carbon. Reliable.
“In my mind, why weren’t we doing this? Why weren’t we using it?”
After all, Stanke said, nuclear is one of the “safest forms of power production that exists today,” producing little waste and requiring minimal land, particularly in the case of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs).
She said, “We need to start having these conversations today about nuclear because this is what we need to create zero-carbon energy that’s reliable.”
It’s a message that aligns with the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas’ commitment to a diverse portfolio of energy resources — a Balance of Power in providing electricity to member-owners that is reliable, affordable and responsible.
Since being crowned Miss America in December 2022, Stanke has traveled the country with this mission: “Providing children their first exposure to the word ‘nuclear,’ establishing new high school curriculums to include nuclear physics, combating the stigma surrounding nuclear energy and assisting in legal issues surrounding the accessibility of zero-carbon energy.” It all starts with awareness.
“In 2023, for the first time in over a decade, 55% of Americans say they’re open to or support nuclear energy being built,” she said. “They want to see new nuclear because it’s cheap, because it’s zero-carbon, because it’s reliable, because it doesn’t use a lot of land. People are starting to warm up to it…. We’re at this point of pivotal change.”
It’s not the only change she is focused on as Miss America.
As Stanke was quoted in her bio as saying, “In addition to helping change public perception of nuclear energy and technology, I hope to inspire youth, especially young girls, to explore STEM and to see that going into these fields, including nuclear engineering, is an option for them.”