I had the opportunity to interview two women who live in the Richland, Wash. area and have careers in nuclear energy. Wanda Munn and Kaitlin Carter are of different generations and have careers in different areas: Munn worked primarily in research (she is now partially retired) and Carter works at the Northwest’s only commercially operated nuclear power plant, Columbia Generating Station. Both enjoy the glories of the Northwest (it’s a wonderful place to live), the promise of nuclear energy (both “fell in love” with it when they first encountered it), and the support of their friends and colleagues.
I found their stories inspiring, and I hope you will, also.
When Wanda Munn was in her early forties, she found herself in a position she did not want to be in. She didn’t have a college degree and she had just gone through a divorce. She had two children at home, and she was also responsible for an elderly mother. Her financial burden had become unbearable: she needed a decent job. She wanted more than just-a-job, however. Munn wanted a job that would be meaningful and helpful to the world as a whole, and intellectually challenging to keep her interested through the future. She found nuclear energy.
Specifically, she went to Oregon State University and received a bachelor’s degree in Nuclear Engineering. In getting this degree, she learned about breeder reactors. “You have to just love a breeder reactor,” she said. “They make more fuel than they burn! There’s no other technology that does that.” After graduation, she accepted a job at the Fast Flux Test Facility located on the Hanford Site. This 400 MW breeder reactor operated for about sixteen years, testing various aspects of commercial reactor design. During those years, Wanda was responsible (at various times) for eight different operating systems within the facility, including the Sodium and Cover Gas sampling systems.
Munn was also active in outreach activities: communicating to the public about nuclear energy. For example, she was on the public information committee of the local section of the American Nuclear Society. They looked for books about nuclear energy; the books had to be accurate and readable by a non-technical adult. Then they bought some of these books, and gave sets to libraries all around Washington state. Most librarians were glad to have the new books. One librarian was suspicious, however, and had to be reassured that the books were gifts of an actual professional society, not part of a corporate PR campaign. Among other honors, Munn received the ANS Public Information Award.
In semi-retirement, Munn chairs one of the two subcommittees of the Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health. She enjoys her family (whom she once supported with a good job in nuclear), gardening, and traveling to the many meetings connected with the Advisory Board. She loves the varied beauty of the Pacific Northwest: mountains, desert and rivers. Munn continues to be active in her chosen profession: nuclear energy!
In contrast to Wanda Munn, Kaitlin Carter is just starting her career in nuclear energy. She received a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Washington State University in Pullman, Wash. As part of an internship, she worked a refueling outage at Columbia Generating Station. She loved working there. During the outage, the entire power plant was visible to her: she could see how the systems worked. She was part of a team, and her work was hands-on and interesting. She decided that she wanted to work at Columbia after graduating, which she did, two weeks after, to be exact, in 2012.
Carter is now part of the Systems Engineering Group at Columbia. She is one of ten people in her subgroup, responsible for the reactor feedwater system and the air-–removal/ off-gas system. She reviews the systems’ performance and creates work orders for system maintenance. She attends many national meetings and training sessions for nuclear engineers with similar responsibilities, such as meetings of the Feedwater System Reliability Users Group. The plant is always striving for safety and excellence, which makes her job interesting and satisfying. Like Munn, Carter also enjoys outreach to young people. She looks forward to going to a local middle school during Nuclear Science Week (Oct. 20 – 24).
Carter is one of ten women engineers (out of 150 engineers) at Columbia Generating Station. She is active in NA-YGN (North American Young Generation in Nuclear) and president of the local chapter of Women In Nuclear. Carter notes that she is no stranger to being in the minority: in her college sorority, she was the only woman majoring in engineering (150 women in her chapter). Like her colleagues at Columbia, her sorority sisters were also very supportive.
Carter loves living in the Tri-Cities area. She is a dedicated runner, and she can run in the desert, near rivers, or in the mountains … and all near her home! Her husband also works at Columbia Generating Station. During the salmon run, they go fishing together in the Yakima River. As Carter says: “Our fishing spot is on our way home from work. Not many people can say they have salmon fishing in their backyard; I feel so lucky to live in the Pacific Northwest.”
Making a Difference
Munn and Carter are of different generations, and have had very different career paths to date. They both know that they are doing something worthwhile for the world by working in nuclear science. The nuclear energy industry makes a difference: it provides abundant power while keeping the air clean. The nuclear energy industry is also a place where a woman can have a well-paid, challenging and meaningful career.
(Posted by Meredith Angwin)