After nearly three years, the events that followed the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake in Japan are still impacting the lives of 83,000 nuclear refugees. The effects of the tsunami that followed the earthquake, and the damage to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility, linger in the form of radiation and now increased atmospheric pollution from a return to fossil fuel-based energy sources. For Jeannie McKinney (‘10), the disaster rekindled her passion for clean energy sources that don’t carry the same risks as nuclear power generation.

McKinney, who graduated from Wake Forest University with a BA in East Asian Studies, left the states to teach English in Hokkaido, Japan. Although always interested in learning about and experiencing other countries and cultures, she also held an underlying passion for the environment. She could not have predicted just how quickly her passion would translate to environmental conservation work until the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The small farming community of Kuriyama, in which McKinney was teaching, felt the reverberation from the earthquake that occurred roughly 300 miles away, and in more than just the literal sense. “I watched as locally grown produce proudly displayed in the grocery stores was slowly replaced with foreign imports, as more and more Japanese food products were found contaminated with radiation. I, myself, promised my family that I’d switch to Australian beef and chicken, just so they would worry less,” she said.

McKinney was troubled that she may visit the town years later to find it damaged with dirty energy projects and overdevelopment.  To try to prevent this, when she returned to the states, she volunteered with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) in her hometown of Knoxville, TN. Now, as the Communications Coordinator and Webmaster for SACE, McKinney handles all electronic communications for the non-profit, which advocates for clean energy programs and policies and opposes nuclear and coal-generated power.

“Our entire culture of development and technological growth is built on the fact that we think we have endless amounts of energy to sustain it all, but fossil fuels and high risk energy sources have limits. We’re poisoning our atmosphere by burning them, and I know firsthand just how disastrous ‘clean’ nuclear energy can be,” stated McKinney.

Determined to continue to fight for what she believes is the right path for America’s energy future, McKinney plans to attend graduate school for environmental public policy in a few years. “Wake Forest gave me the opportunity to have a broad and diverse education, allowing me to test the waters with many different areas of study and helping me to learn about the world from various perspectives.”  In her past position as English teacher abroad and her current one as a clean energy advocate, McKinney both exemplifies the local and global opportunities that stem from a Wake Forest education and personifies our motto Pro Humanitate.

 By Hannah Slodounik, Program Coordinator