Going Nuclear

Nathaniel Cox’s childhood dream propels him toward a successful future

When he was a child living in Florida, Nathaniel Cox, currently of Huntsville, Alabama, was fascinated by the swirling steam leaving the cooling tower at Crystal River Nuclear Plant. He was so fascinated that in seventh grade he wrote a research paper on the partial meltdown incident that occurred in 1979 at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant in Pennsylvania. His direction was set; he was going to work in engineering when he grew up.

Cox’s interest with nuclear technology grew with him into adulthood, and in 2011, he joined the Navy and enrolled in Navy Nuclear Power School because of the opportunities and benefits it offered. Cox became an engineering laboratory technician toward the end of his Navy schooling, and he was transferred to the Nuclear Power Training Unit in Ballston Spa, New York. Cox explains his role there: “I was selected as a junior staff instructor, training incoming nuclear operators on how to operate the steam plant and also how to do chemistry for the steam and reactor plant.”

A few years later, Cox moved to Georgia and became the lead engineering laboratory technician with the USS Florida on the Blue Crew. There he oversaw the radiological controls program. In 2017, Cox discovered Excelsior University (then College) and thought he could increase his education and financial prospects by earning his bachelor’s degree. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Engineering Technology in 2020, using military tuition assistance for his entire degree program.

During deployments, Cox took two or three courses at a time. “I was really grateful that I took that [English course] because it let me express myself a little better…” Cox recalls. His technology classes especially helped him. “I would say the nuclear engineering technology classes really prepared me well…I was hired by Exelon which is now Constellation Nuclear…I can speak intelligently because I have taken some of the [nuclear engineering technology] classes with Excelsior,” Cox explains and adds that many of Excelsior’s courses also helped him to understand nuclear engineering lingo. For his achievements, Cox was selected as the recipient of the 2021 Dr. Robert L. Long Award for Academic Excellence in Nuclear Engineering Technology.

Cox talks excitedly about the world of nuclear engineering technology. “I am really excited about small modular reactors,” he says, and explains that this type of technology is already prevalent in the U.S. Navy and being pursued in the United States and Europe. These reactors would help scientists develop safer, cleaner, and more affordable nuclear power options. Cox has brought this excitement into his new role as a remote project manager on the reactor design finalization team in the Project Management Office with NuScale Power.

The position fits comfortably into Cox’s educational experience, which includes an MBA and Master of Science in Business Analytics from Indiana University, and his career trajectory. In this role, Cox plans to marry his knowledge of business with nuclear technology. “Some of the [Excelsior’s] business courses got me thinking in order to make an impact, I need to figure out how to make nuclear cost-effective and just learn more and more about how businesses operate,” says Cox.

Pursuing a third master’s degree in artificial intelligence at Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering supports Cox’s vision of contributing to the creation of more economical nuclear energy. The program includes many business analytics courses, as well as learning about programming languages used in artificial intelligence projects. “I think the best way to make nuclear cost-effective is one, smaller reactors and two, integrating technology,” Cox explains. Cox notes he does not have a background in AI or programming just yet, but he is excited to learn in his current classes.

Cox is also eager to tell the next generation of Navy recruits about the benefits of earning a degree from Excelsior. He tells them by getting a degree, they can open many doors, like Excelsior did for him. “Excelsior will give you all the tools you need to make you successful…. whether you like nuclear engineering technology or not, you can leverage skills that you learn to do legitimately anything.”