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U.S. Nuclear Engineering Education: Status and Prospects (1990)

Chapter: 7 SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS

« Previous: 6 IMPLICATIONS OF FUTURE DEMAND FOR NUCLEAR ENGINEERING EDUCATION
Suggested Citation:"7 SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS." National Research Council. 1990. U.S. Nuclear Engineering Education: Status and Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1696.
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Page 79
Suggested Citation:"7 SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS." National Research Council. 1990. U.S. Nuclear Engineering Education: Status and Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1696.
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Page 80
Suggested Citation:"7 SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS." National Research Council. 1990. U.S. Nuclear Engineering Education: Status and Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1696.
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Page 81
Suggested Citation:"7 SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS." National Research Council. 1990. U.S. Nuclear Engineering Education: Status and Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1696.
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Page 82
Suggested Citation:"7 SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS." National Research Council. 1990. U.S. Nuclear Engineering Education: Status and Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1696.
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Page 83
Suggested Citation:"7 SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS." National Research Council. 1990. U.S. Nuclear Engineering Education: Status and Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1696.
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Page 84

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SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS STATUS OF U.S. NUCLEAR ENGINEERING EDUCATION The development of nuclear power after World War II made nuclear engineering a dynamic field until the late 1970s. Since then, several factors have deterred the further expansion of commercial nuclear power in the United States: the last order to construct a new nuclear power plant was placed in 1978. This trend has led to a decline in nuclear engineering enrollments and in the proportion of research funds available to faculty for research related to commercial power reactors. Nuclear engineering research now covers broader applications of nuclear forces and processes, and is reflected in graduate Undergraduate programs continue to be relatively broad based, programs. providing undergraduates with a good education on power reactors. The decline in enrollments over the past decade has resulted in a decline in the hiring of new faculty and an increase in the average age of faculty. In addition, at the graduate level, there is an increasing proportion of foreign students. In summary: 1. While the committee has found no evidence of changes in the quality of U.S. nuclear engineering academic programs, there has been a decline in the number of schools offering such curricula, in the number of students-- especially of U.S. students--studying nuclear engineering, in the rate of addition of young faculty, in the average age of the faculty, and in the number of research reactors for education. Emphasis of research funding has also shifted away from areas related to power reactors, and maintaining laboratories and equipment in support of nuclear engineering education has become more difficult. 79

80 2. Undergraduate nuclear engineering curricula are generally accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) and contain much the same content across institutions. These curricula provide a broad background in basic sciences and engineering, and have a nuclear engineering course content that is heavily oriented toward power reactor applications. The basic undergraduate curricula are well suited to serve the needs of the industry in which most graduates find employment. 3. The graduate curriculum is far more diverse and varied from university to university, reflecting the many areas in which those with advanced degrees find employment. Graduate research programs have changed significantly over the past decade. There has been a dramatic decline in research related to power reactors, which now represents less than 15 percent of research funding in the field. Research in other nuclear engineering areas continues to increase: in medical diagnosis and treatment, space exploration, new energy generation and storage technologies, and radioactive waste disposal. SUPPLY AND DEMAND Currently, supply and demand for nuclear engineers is in balance. There are pressures to place more degreed engineers in power reactor control rooms, in technical advisory roles, and in management positions. The committee projects that demand will increase over the next 5 years because of the needs of the Department of Energy (DOE), and over the next 20 years depending on the rate of design and construction of new nuclear power plants. The supply of nuclear engineers is projected to fall below demand if current student population trends continue. Although it is difficult to make projections about the resurgence of nuclear power, the committee feels that it has made conservative assumptions in its "best-estimate" demand projection and that demand in 10 to 20 years could exceed the committee's projections. Even if these demand projections for the resurgence of nuclear power are not completely realized, there are still the near-term needs and other important reasons for maintaining strong nuclear engineering academic programs. For example, the employment market for Ph.D. graduates in nuclear engineering is diverse and the power reactor industry plays a much smaller role in this market than it does in the markets for B.S. and M.S. graduates. Nuclear engineers with Ph.D.s are employed by the national laboratories, in fusion activities, in Strategic Defense Initiative studies, and universities. In summary: 4. At present the supply and demand for undergraduate nuclear engineers is in balance. Yet, even if there are no new reactor orders, the demand for undergraduate nuclear engineers is now increasing and will likely increase further. The committee's best estimate projects 50- and 25-percent increases

81 in demand by 1995 and 2000, respectively, and if there is a resurgence of nuclear power in the United States, a doubling or trebling of current demand after the year 2000. If trends in nuclear engineering education continue, a rising demand for nuclear engineers will outstrip the supply within a few years. The committee notes the uncertainties in the future scope and needs in the defense industry that may result from the recent changes in the international situation. The result may be the availability of some engineers for retraining to fill a portion of the needs in the nuclear field. However, the committee had no way at this time to assess the numbers of such engineers nor the time scale of their availability and retraining. EDUCATION FOR FUTURE NEEDS Considering the continuing need for safe, efficient operation of power reactors already built, the probability that additional reactors will be built in the future, the needs of the U.S. Department of Energy, and the increasing number of areas in which nuclear engineering is applied, the nation has a great interest in ensuring the continuity of nuclear engineering programs and their highly skilled faculties and adequate research and fellowship funding. In summary: 5. Nuclear engineering programs must remain separate areas within engineering colleges to ensure the integrity and vitality of their unique educational goals. 6. Those that hire undergraduate nuclear engineers say these engineers need better oral and written communications skills, better knowledge of the nuclear reactor as an integrated system, and more education of the biological effects of radiation. 7. Current programs could be modestly expanded without increasing the faculty. 8. Greater funding for research related to nuclear power reactors is needed to reverse the decline of over more than a decade. 9. U.S. research reactors should be accessible to all nuclear engineering departments. 10. Industry has strengthened nuclear engineering programs, keeping them relevant to employers' needs, through (1) scholarship and fellowship programs; (2) campus activities such as industry-oriented seminars and

82 American Nuclear Society programs, and (3) faculty and student participation in on-site industrial programs. RECOMMENDATIONS To strengthen U.S. nuclear engineering education and reverse the decline of the last decade, the committee has identified a number of needed actions, which are stated as recommendations below. The responsibility for nuclear engineering education is shared by the federal government, private industry, and the academic community, and the recommendations below are directed to decision makers in each of these sectors. Because an expected near-term shortage (in the next 5 to 10 years) of nuclear engineers would largely owe to expanded government programs, DOE has added responsibility for near-term solutions. Responsibilities of the Federal Government The federal government, and especially DOE can directly influence the number of students and the direction of research through increased funding, helping to ensure an adequate student pool and access to research reactors for educational purposes. Adequate data bases will also be important to assess current and future issues. This study was slowed by the inadequacy, incompleteness, and incompatibility of existing data bases on the employment of nuclear engineers. The DOE data base maintained by Oak Ridge Associated Universities, which is an ongoing compilation of responses to its Survey of Occupational Employment in Nuclear-Related Activities, is not a new system, and efforts to upgrade it have been limited by resources. This data base does not cover military personnel or employees of educational or medical institutions, construction firms, or federal agencies other than DOE and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. As a result, the committee had to solicit information through its own survey to complement these data bases. The committee arrived at the following recommendations: o Funding for traineeship and fellowship programs should be increased. o Additional research funds should be made available to support work on nuclear power reactors, especially for innovative approaches. Increasing the existing DOE research program from $4 million to $11 million per year is recommended. o Programs to attract women and minorities into nuclear engineering should be enhanced, a need sharpened by demographic trends. o DOE should consider providing funds for nuclear engineering participation in minority-oriented science and technology initiatives, notably those being established by the National Science Foundation.

83 o DOE should assess supporting the access, for educational purposes, of all nuclear engineering departments to the research reactors in the United States. o DOE should ensure that its personnel data base in nuclear engineering promptly and accurately reflects supply and demand. Several actions should help accomplish this: - The definitions of the discipline and job skill requirements should be revised and clarified to better match those used by the sectors being surveyed. - Survey methods should be revised to ensure that no temporary assignments or offices are excluded and that all sectors of nuclear-related employment and all appropriate employees more generally are included. - Survey questions and format should be reviewed both by professional questionnaire experts and by sector practitioners, to ensure thoroughness, consistency and clarity. The present exclusion from DOE personnel data of those in the fields of fusion, education and academia, and the health-care industry, and of uniformed military personnel should be reexamined. Responsibilities of Industry While near-term needs will owe largely to government programs, any increased longer term need for nuclear engineers is likely to result from a resurgence of nuclear power. For this reason, electric utilities and the supporting industry can help to ensure the needed supply of properly trained people through appropriate actions. The committee recommends the following: o Electric utilities and the supporting industry should increase their participation and support of U.S. nuclear engineering education. Such support should cover cooperative student programs, research sponsorship, scholarships and fellowships, seminar sponsorship, and establishing and supporting academic chairs. o Industry should continue working with the American Nuclear Society, and other professional engineering societies, such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, in support of its strong advocacy for nuclear engineering education.

84 Responsibilities of Universities The nuclear engineering undergraduate curriculum is appropriately broad in both laboratory and classroom instruction, and provides good training and education for employment in the nuclear power industry. The broadening of research in graduate nuclear engineering programs is a positive trend and should be encouraged. The imminent retirement of a significant fraction of the faculty jeopardizes both undergraduate and graduate programs. Therefore, the committee recommends the following: o Nuclear engineering curricula should continue to be broad based. At the undergraduate level, however, programs should increase emphasis on systems-oriented reactor engineering, study of the biological effects of radiation, and oral and written communication skills. At both undergraduate and graduate levels, more emphasis should be given to nuclear waste management and environmental remediation and restoration. o Research programs should include more research in reactor-oriented areas. o Nuclear engineering faculty should actively develop and seek support for research related to power reactors, to nuclear waste management, and environmental remediation. o University administrators should develop innovative procedures, such as partial or phased retirement of older faculty to retain access to their special capabilities and skills, to allow the addition of junior faculty in a timely fashion.

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Given current downward trends in graduate and undergraduate enrollment in the nuclear engineering curriculum, there is a fundamental concern that there will not be enough nuclear engineering graduates available to meet future needs. This book characterizes the status of nuclear engineering education in the United States, estimates the supply and demand for nuclear engineers—both graduate and undergraduate—over the next 5 to 20 years, addresses the range of material that the nuclear engineering curriculum should cover and how it should relate to allied disciplines, and recommends actions to help ensure that the nation's needs for competent graduate and undergraduate nuclear engineers can be met.

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