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6 IMPLICATIONS OF FUTURE DEMAND _FOR NUCLEAR ENGINEERING EDUCATION The previous chapters have addressed the imbalance between projected demand and supply of nuclear engineers, an imbalance that will result if current trends in nuclear engineering education continue. Also, changes taking place in research directions have already been addressed. In this chapter, the committee identifies changes that appear to be needed in nuclear engineering education to maintain its vitality and to meet projected demands for qualified nuclear engineers. NEEDED CHANGES IN THE UNDERGRADUATE CURRICULUM The committee performed an analysis of the skills needed by nuclear engineers for prospective employers, after conducting a survey of institutions and firms hiring undergraduate and graduate nuclear engineers. Input was sought from a wide variety of respondents, which ranged from utilities and reactor vendors to national laboratories and government organizations. Respondents were asked to rank the importance of 10 different segments of the nuclear engineering curriculum. Based on these responses and on the factors influencing the discipline that were mentioned in previous chapters, it is clear that some modest modifications in nuclear engineering curricula are needed. Almost universally, respondents indicated the need for improved oral and written communication skills. This problem may owe in some degree to the growth in the number of graduate students for whom English is not a first language. Such a response relates to engineers in general--in fact, to most professionals--and seems to indicate the need to enhance communication skills in this information age; it may also reflect the importance and widespread use 73
74 of engineering teams in which communication is important. Courses should be designed for students to exercise and develop communications skills. The survey also indicated that nuclear engineers at the undergraduate level need strong skills in reactor physics, reactor operations, health effects of nuclear radiation, reactor safety, and other areas germane to power reactor operation for energy production. The present curriculum seems to be generally successful in providing this training. Respondents to the survey were asked the nature of the positions for which nuclear engineers were hired and whether graduates in other engineering disciplines could be used to fill those positions. The most uniform responses on this issue were from the nuclear industry concerning nuclear engineers with bachelor's degrees. These responses indicated that personnel trained in other engineering disciplines can be used to fill many positions within the industry; however, nuclear engineers are preferred for positions for which an understanding of system behavior is desirable. Such positions could include, for example, serving as shift technical advisor at an operating nuclear power reactor or performing safety analyses of the behavior of a reactor system. A reactor plant is an unusually complex system of interrelated components (e.g., electrical, radioactive, hydraulic, and mechanical) with immense energy potentially available for controlled or uncontrolled release. The design, maintenance, and operation of these systems and components require competence in physics, mechanics, thermal hydraulics, heat transfer, chemistry, and other disciplinary areas. Thus, understanding and capability in one field are not sufficient for some positions in nuclear power plants that focus on systems. The survey points out a need to strengthen systems education in the nuclear engineering curriculum. In the main, however, the present U.S. undergraduate nuclear engineering curriculum appears to have the proper course content to educate for nuclear engineering. Further, despite the great differences in educational approaches in other countries, the basic technical curriculum content seems to be universal. Enhancements to the curriculum in the area of oral and written communications, reactor systems engineering, and biological effects of radiation, are indicated. In spite of the reasonably satisfactory state of the present curriculum, some trends do not bode well for nuclear engineering programs. Faculties are ageing and decreasing in size, and there are few junior faculty being hired. As class sizes decline, university administrators often do not replace nuclear engineering faculty who retire or resign. When such faculty are replaced, the new faculty come from graduate programs with curricula that place less emphasis on commercial power reactor systems. These trends, if they continue, will weaken undergraduate teaching in reactor technology and may have a detrimental effect on the education of undergraduate nuclear engineers needed in the future. This conclusion suggests that adjustments might be made in
75 research programs and graduate curricula to ensure understanding of reactor systems engineering. NEEDED CHANGES IN THE GRADUATE CURRICULUM AND RESEARCH PROGRAMS It was stressed earlier that nuclear engineering research programs are diversifying. Research related to commercial power reactors has substantially declined. Much of the funding available is directed to near-term objectives and is only marginally appropriate for the creative research required for a graduate degree. Funding for graduate fellowships has also declined. Although there are such positive arrangements as the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) fellowships and the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Energy Research (OER) nuclear engineering research program, long-term reactor physics and engineering-oriented research support and student fellowship support are not sufficient. In particular, the funding available for research relevant to nuclear power reactors needs to be increased. The committee survey data indicate that increases in both fellowships and reactor-relevant research funding can be effective and the present infrastructure can accommodate more students. These points do not imply that increases for reactor research funds need to be large. Nuclear engineering faculty can and should continue to seek research funding to address other issues. The broadening of the field is a healthy trend, finding new solutions to important problems. On the other hand, the national nuclear engineering research program has moved so sharply away nuclear power directions that some balance of activities seems to be in order. The 1990 Fiscal Year OER budget of $6 million for nuclear engineering research, fellowships, research reactor utilization and educational support is an excellent start. This funding, which was provided by congressional appropriation, needs to be added again to the administrations's annual budget submission to Congress. The $4 million research component of this program is sufficiently long term to be appropriate for universities and is largely reactor-related. The committee's judgment is that reactor-related research funding should represent about 25 to 30 percent of total research funds instead of the current 15 percent (Table 4-2~. Thus, increasing the research component of the OER program by $7 million per year, from the present $4 million to $11 million per year, would result in about 27 percent of funding (~$6.5 + $7 million/$43 + $7 million]) being oriented toward reactor-related research. At about $28,000 per graduate student, this additional $7 million could support about 250 additional graduate students. The present infrastructure could absorb such an increase and the infusion of funds would be a major help in strengthening nuclear engineering education.
76 The National Science Foundation (NSF) presently supports 12.3 percent of research in nuclear engineering programs. This support is in research areas that are not closely related to nuclear reactors, but are vital to the long- term vitality of nuclear engineering education. The committee found that within the nuclear engineering academic community, NSF is perceived to consider support of nuclear engineering to be a DOE responsibility. An example given is the recent rejection of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology proposal for an NSF Engineering Research Center in Advanced Nuclear Power Studies. DOE was apparently perceived by NSF to be the proper sponsor of the proposed work. With the emergence of nuclear engineering as a broad-based academic discipline, no longer tied solely to commercial nuclear power, and with improving prospects for commercial nuclear power, NSF should again review its policies toward funding nuclear engineering education. The results of the recent NSF workshop on this subject could be the starting point for NSF to more clearly define and promote its policy of support for education and research in nuclear engineering (NSF, 1989~. The OER, which has taken the lead in enthusiastically supporting the valuable, although rather modest, new research program in nuclear engineering, should monitor nuclear engineering research across all agencies to ensure adequate coordination. The recommended increase to an $11 million research program could help ensure a proper balance between reactor-related and other research in nuclear engineering programs. There also should be a balance between funding the research of individual investigators and funding that of larger centers. The NSF has found that such centers, which often involve several departments on campuses, can provide fresh approaches to difficult problems. Research is closely tied to graduate education. In our survey of skills needed by graduate engineers, the ability to conduct independent research was the most widely needed skill identified. Again, strong communications skills and a thorough understanding of nuclear engineering systems were also indicated. Unless a job specifically requires the expert skills of another engineering discipline (e.g., the circuit design skills of an electrical engineer), an engineer from such another discipline could not simply replace the nuclear engineer without appropriate training. The committee believes that for jobs associated with power reactors, educational experience is ideally gained in a nuclear engineering program where at least some reactor research is conducted. The enhanced nuclear engineering research program described would lead to better balanced research funding in nuclear engineering programs, and a curriculum with greater attention to power reactor issues, yielding graduates better suited to potential employers' needs.
77 UNIVERSITY REACTORS The number of university research reactors has declined significantly (NRC, 1988~. As discussed in Chapter 4, access to a university reactor is an important element of both undergraduate and graduate nuclear engineering education. Because of the expense of supporting these reactors, it is not anticipated that every nuclear engineering department can have one. However, there should be a sufficient number of such reactors, located so that all nuclear engineering departments can gain access to one without undue costs. THE ROLE OF INDUSTRY The U.S. nuclear power industry, especially the utilities now operating the commercial reactors, has a vested interest in ensuring a strong manpower pool for the industry of the future. Although broad-based educational experience is appropriate for nuclear engineering programs, some component closely aligned with the commercial nuclear power industry is extremely important to produce graduates with the requisite training and education. Through INPO the nuclear power industry has established both graduate fellowship programs (totalling $380,000 per year) and undergraduate scholarship programs (totalling $510,000 per year) in nuclear engineering and health physics (INPO, 1989). However, companies within the nuclear power industry, both utilities and suppliers, should be encouraged to reexamine and increase their involvement with nuclear engineering programs. Such involvement may be significant for their success in the future competition for graduate students. In addition to strengthening scholarship and fellowship programs, industrial organizations should be more visible on campuses, and faculty and students should participate in on-site industrial programs. Industry has interacted with nuclear engineering programs in several effective ways: 1. Cooperative education programs, in which students alternate between paid assignments in industry and full-time education. This arrangement affords the student first-hand experience in applied nuclear engineering in industry, and it affords the employing industry in-depth experience with a potential professional employee. Industry has often found that after graduation such students are among the best of new hires. 2. Summer employment of undergraduate sophomores and juniors. 3. Adjunct professors provided by industrial organizations from among their most experienced and capable personnel to add diversity to faculty and provide students with first-hand exposure to an industry perspective. 4. Two-year nuclear engineering technology programs established cooperatively by universities and industrial firms, to develop a continuing
78 supply of trained technicians. Pennsylvania State University, Duquesne Light, and Westinghouse Electric Corporation have cooperated effectively for a number of years in such an enterprise. 5. Advisory committees that promote closer relationships between nuclear engineering departments and nearby industrial concerns. 6. Small sponsored research programs in nuclear engineering departments to solve industry problems. FINDINGS In summary, then, a number of steps discussed here can strengthen nuclear engineering education; some are enumerated as recommendations in Chapter 7. Findings regarding nuclear education for future needs, based on discussion in this and previous chapters are as follows: o Bachelor of science graduates need strong skills in areas relating to nuclear power reactors because they are very likely to be employed in the nuclear power industry. This is also true, though less so, of master of science graduates. 0 Nuclear engineering curricula are properly focused on the fundamentals of the discipline but need modest broadening to respond to the following trends: the growing use of integrated systems approaches to evaluate reactor safety and risks, increased interest and concern about the biological effects of radiation, greater emphasis on radioactive waste management and related environmental remediation technologies, and the widely shared opinion of employers that graduates need improved oral and written communications skills (a concern common to all engineering disciplines and especially a problem given the many foreign students). O Over the past 10 to 15 years, there has been a substantial decline in research related to power reactors. There has been some increase in research on fusion, space power applications, medical applications and waste management. Thus, although inadequate to the research support levels needed by the discipline, a broader program relevant to the applications of no Far forces and processes has emerged. o There is a significant and growing mismatch between the research interests of the faculty and the subject matter of the undergraduate curricula. 0 The average age of U.S. nuclear engineering faculty is about 10 years greater than for all engineering faculty, and only 18 percent of the faculty qualified to teach nuclear engineering have less than five years of teaching experience. Failure to introduce young faculty will necessarily limit research development in many institutions and promises serious interruptions in future program continuity. . .