The World of Energy at Oconee Nuclear Station first opened its doors in 1969 in a remote corner of South Carolina. Located on the shores of Lake Keowee in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, that green and deep part of South Carolina was going through massive changes when the museum was built. Lake Keowee itself did not even exist yet. The gates of the dam that created the lake were not closed until 1970, and Oconee Nuclear Station was not completed until 1974.
The World of Energy was built by Duke Energy to explain to the people of South Carolina what nuclear energy is, and how it is produced. The earliest visitors could stand in front of the massive glass walls of the museum, still there today, and watch as the three reactors of Oconee Nuclear Station grew taller and taller. Today, World of Energy is the longest continuously open educational center at a nuclear power plant in the US. It will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2019.
The exhibits at World of Energy explore the many ways energy is created—the sun, burning coal, hydroelectric—using models and photographs. It also explains nuclear fission in a way that's understandable even to children. It goes step-by-step to explain how Oconee Nuclear Station creates electricity, and what the reactors do and why the station was built on a lake. It talks about how electricity is used in the modern world, and it examines the ways we can get more energy to meet the needs of modern life moving forward. If you’re at all interesting in science, it’s truly a fascinating place.
Equally fascinating is the history of the place. World of Energy was built in the brutalist school of architecture popular in the 1960s and 1970s, and you know immediately that the museum is from that era. The museum discusses its own reasons for existing and explores the construction of the series of lakes in the upstate built by Duke Energy.
If you go, don't miss the beautiful world outside the museum either. Behind the museum building is a walking path down to a picnic shelter and boat docks. And as you come over a little rise, Lake Keowee spreads out before you, and the layers and layers of the mountains of the Blue Ridge rise in the distance behind it.
An odd and unexpected little museum deep in the hills, World of Energy is a fascinating reminder and acknowledgment of the ways we shape the natural world to meet the energy needs of modern life. It’s worth seeking out next time you are up enjoying Lake Hartwell Country.