It is a place where orchids bloom, art is displayed and local history is remembered. It is also a venue where professionals meet, children learn and retirees explore new interests. The World of Energy, located adjacent to Duke Energy’s Oconee Nuclear Station near Seneca S.C., overlooks a butterfly garden and the pristine waters of Lake Keowee. And, just beyond the facility’s floor-to-ceiling windows, visitors have clear views of three, 19-story nuclear reactors.
At first glance, Oconee Nuclear Station may seem like an unusual place for social, cultural and educational activity. Yet the site’s World of Energy education center is designed for just such endeavors. Each year, approximately 30,000 visitors from throughout the United States and as far away as Europe come to the World of Energy to participate in events, tour the facility’s interactive Story of Energy exhibit and see displays that range from native habitat restoration to fine art.
Built in 1969 before construction began on Oconee’s nuclear reactors, World of Energy originally served as a vantage point from which citizens could view the progress of one of the U.S.’s first nuclear power plants. Since then, the facility has grown to include a comfortable auditorium, spacious lobby and meeting rooms, as well as its star attraction: the Story of Energy exhibit. Since its opening, more than three million visitors have walked through World of Energy’s doors.
“Thousands of people seek us out each year after hearing about our programs and learning about all that World of Energy has to offer,” said B.J. Gatten, communications manager for Duke Energy. “Having an educational center right next to a nuclear plant provides an excellent opportunity for us to de-mystify nuclear power and show people how safe and environmentally-friendly it truly is.”
Whether they are interested in learning about nuclear energy or drawn by one of its attractions, people of all ages find something to do at World of Energy. For the business set, the facility’s staff hosts programs like an “After Hours” event where professionals from a multi-county Chamber of Commerce coalition get to mix and mingle. For retirees, the staff holds a Super Tuesday program every other month, which features discussions on such topics as how to select native plants for gardening and tracing family roots through genealogy.
World of Energy staff members also provide presentations about how electricity is made to students from elementary, middle and high schools. The presentations are tailored for each grade level. Fourth graders are invited onstage to play the roles of atoms to demonstrate how magnetic charge is used to create the movement of electrons along conductors; high school students learn about nuclear fission. A hair-raising Vandergraph experience always makes a memorable grand finale.
Outside of the World of Energy building, shaded, open lawns are used for a myriad of community and group events like an annual movie night or Boy Scout merit badge trips. “World of Energy helps Duke Energy to be a good neighbor and allows us to give back to the community,” said Gatten. “It is always fun to meet people who visited World of Energy as children and are back visiting with their children and grand-children.”
For more information, visit the World of Energy website at www.duke-energy.com/worldofenergy.