Learning is a lifelong process

I consider myself someone of average intelligence. There were certain subjects I liked in in school, others I could have done without.  Math and science did not interest me.  I liked math, but only the easy stuff, like  adding, subtracting, and fractions. Algebra was like hitting a brick wall, most of it I didn’t understand. 

I liked science at first because we learned about single-cells and nature.  Once it got into the building blocks of DNA, though, I was lost. Language arts was my favorite.  I loved to write stories and was good at spelling, grammar and punctuation.  I was good at some subjects, lousy at others. I must have done ok because I graduated high school. 

I think one thing that helped me in school was  my love for reading. As a child, I read all the time, sometimes getting  in trouble because I didn’t want to do anything else.   I still read, but the books I read are all different. I read fiction, non-fiction, science-fiction, spiritual, self-help, and informative books.  I read books that tell you how to read palms and tarot cards (just for fun) and books that told people why they are the way they are.  I read to escape and I read to dream.

But as much as I love to read, I am also aware that books are not the only way to learn.  I recently learned something very valuable, something I don’t think I could have learned in a book.  Not traditionally, anyway.

My boyfriend, Jeff,  is a nuclear engineer by trade.  He’s worked at the Duane Arnold Power Plant  for almost 20 years. But now his position is Financial Planner.  He told me that he wanted to switch careers and they let him.  We have been dating for about six months and though I have talked to him about his work, I had a hard time grasping how nuclear energy works.  Until this past Saturday. 

We somehow got on the conversation of what he is doing at work, getting ready for what the nuclear plant refers to as an outage year. Jeff just got done doing the budget for next year and now they are entering a phase that will last a month. In this time, the plant will shut down (not literally, though) and go ‘off the grid’ and clean and do maintenance  (an ‘outage year’ takes place about every two years.  Jeff tried to explain what it meant but it was too confusing).

He then explained how uranium 235 (the core’s fuel) are in the form of rods and are inserted into the core and last two years.  The rods are released intermittently, allowing them to last the entire two years.  He said that uranium 235 is everywhere but is rare because it has to be in a certain form.  (This is where, at one time, I probably would have zoned out and nodded politely, but this was getting good!)

My reporter’s instinct took over.  I asked him if people were still afraid that something bad would happen at the plant and he said some were, but the chances of anything happening are practically nil.  He said the security is really high and that there are so many safety features built-in now, they have backups for their backups for their backups.  As if it weren’t enough, I asked him another question.

“How does nuclear energy work?”  He looked at me and smiled.  I don’t think he really expected me to understand, seeing as how I had already told him that I wasn’t that great in science.  He went on to explain that  a nuclear reaction occurs when an atom is split, particularly a uranium atom.  That is called nuclear fission.  When uranium atoms surround hydrogen atoms, they squish the hydrogen  causing a bigger reaction, the stuff bombs are made of, as in hydrogen bombs. This is called fusion.  If someone had sat me down and explained it like this in high school, I would have gotten an ‘A’ for sure.

Our conversation made me realize that I sometimes avoid things I don’t think that I’ll understand, maybe because I’m afraid I won’t.  Maybe ignorance really is bliss, but I don’t think so. I believe that knowledge is power.  The greatest lesson I have ever learned is that I have a lot to learn; about life, people, myself, among other things. Learning doesn’t have to be a chore, and it shouldn’ bet.  I learn different things in different ways.  I know I won’t ever know everything there is to know in this world. Besides, what fun would that be?

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