UT–Knoxville, Roane State to receive expanded nuclear education funding

May 23, 2024, 7:00AMNuclear News
The Zeanah Engineering Complex at the University of Tennessee–Knoxville. (Photo: UT–Knoxville)

Last week Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and Stuart McWhorter, commissioner of the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development, announced that the University of Tennessee–Knoxville and Roane State Community College will receive funding from Tennessee’s Nuclear Energy Fund to support existing nuclear programs as well as develop and implement new nuclear education curriculum.

Using its portion of the $50 million Nuclear Energy Fund, the University of Tennessee will establish a new program for non-nuclear engineers to obtain a minor in nuclear engineering at its Knoxville campus. Separate funding for Roane State Community College will allow purchase of laboratory equipment for that school’s inaugural nuclear technology program, which launches in the fall of 2024.

According to a governor’s office press release, both campuses, which are close to Oak Ridge National Laboratory, will play a vital role in attracting nuclear companies to the region with the enhanced curriculum and equipment.

“Our administration created the Nuclear Energy Fund in partnership with the Tennessee general assembly to support and expand the state’s nuclear ecosystem,” said Lee. “Tennessee has the right assets in place to become a top state for energy independence, and we are proud to partner with the University of Tennessee and Roane State Community College to upskill our talented workforce and better prepare Tennesseans to enter the nuclear field.”

Minor details: The UT–Knoxville minor in nuclear engineering (NE) program launches in the fall of 2024 utilizing current courses. However, the university said it plans to develop three new courses in the future specifically designed to provide students with a customized curriculum to better meet industry needs.

The NE program will provide engineering students with an understanding of the fundamental concepts of nuclear engineering to prepare them for careers in the nuclear industry and meet industry needs.

According to UT, only 10 to 15 percent of the workforce at a typical nuclear power facility are nuclear engineers. Utilities and companies in the nuclear industry must initially provide extensive training in areas such as nuclear safety culture, licensing and regulations, and other foundational nuclear engineering topics.

Interested students can tell their advisors that they are pursuing the NE minor, and they will receive the guidance needed to integrate that work into their current curriculum through proper choice of technical electives.

They said it: “This is indeed an exciting time for nuclear growth in Tennessee, and we are eager to offer this nuclear power engineering minor to better prepare our engineering graduates to meet the growing needs of the nuclear community,” said Wes Hines, head of the UT–Knoxville Nuclear Engineering Department. “Our expertise in these areas, combined with access to top-notch facilities, will provide students with an educational opportunity they can’t get anywhere else and put them in a position to be immediately sought after by industry for their skills.”

Chris Whaley, president of Roane State Community College, added, “The nuclear renaissance is real here in the heart of East Tennessee, and this region will lead the country in developing a clean, reliable source of power for the future. The rapid growth in this technology requires a new labor force of educated, trained, and skilled employees committed to this new industry. These dollars from the Tennessee Nuclear Energy Fund will allow Roane State to establish a state-of-the-art program and laboratory for experiential learning.”

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