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The Future of University Nuclear Engineering Programs and University Research and Training Reactors

Nuclear engineering programs and departments with an initial emphasis in fission were formed in the late 1950’s and 1960’s from interdisciplinary efforts in many of the top research universities, providing the manpower for this technical discipline. In the same time period, for many of these programs, university nuclear reactors were constructed and began their operation, providing some of the facilities needed for research and training of students engaged in this profession. However, over the last decade, the U.S. nuclear science and engineering educational structure has not only stagnated but has reached a state of decline. The number of independent nuclear engineering programs and the number of operating university nuclear reactors have both fallen by about half since the mid-1980s. In contrast, the demand for nuclear-trained personnel is again on the rise. Workforce requirements at operating U.S. nuclear power plants are increasing and will undoubtedly remain high, given the plans for plant-life extension in the vast majority of operating light-water reactors in the U.S. Moreover, new initiatives have begun in applied radiation sciences in collaboration with industrial and medical researchers as well as new biotechnologists. Finally, nuclear science and engineering (NS&E) continues to be needed in national security as well as providing the US Navy with effective, safe nuclear propulsion. Thus, the future of nuclear science and engineering programs must be reevaluated and refocused as the new century begins.

In November 1999, DOE Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology requested that NERAC establish an ad hoc panel to consider educational issues related to the future of nuclear science and engineering; i.e., address the future of nuclear engineering programs, establish a process toward support of university research and training reactors, and identify appropriate collaborations between DOE national laboratories and university programs. To this end the panel is making a series of recommendations to the NERAC and the DOE.