BLACKSBURG, Va., Sept. 4, 2009 – Virginia Tech's nuclear engineering program will receive $850,000 from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for faculty development and for fellowships.
The NRC awarded nearly $20 million to 70 institutions to boost nuclear education and expand the workforce in nuclear and nuclear-related disciplines. Congress provided the NRC funding for a $5 million educational curriculum program and an additional $15 million to supplement the NRC's grant program for scholarships and fellowships, faculty development, trade schools, and community colleges.
"As directed by the Congress, this funding provides broad benefits to the nuclear sector rather than solely benefitting the NRC. These grants help develop a workforce capable of the design, construction, operation, and regulation of nuclear facilities and the safe handling of nuclear materials," said NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko. "This year the agency expanded the number of institutions receiving grants from 60 to 70, and increased the number of grants to minority serving institutions by 67 percent."
Virginia Tech revived its nuclear engineering program in 2007, offering graduate coursework that leads to a graduate certificate in nuclear engineering. Final approval of the graduate certificate is pending. Development of a master's and Ph.D. in nuclear engineering is in progress. In addition, an undergraduate certificate in nuclear engineering is currently available and a minor in nuclear engineering is in preparation.
"With the critical demand for energy by our nation and the world, we were pleased to revive our concentration on nuclear engineering," said Richard C. Benson, dean of Virginia Tech's College of Engineering. "We have strong relationships with a number of industrial and government entities, including AREVA NP Inc., the Babcock and Wilcox Company, Dominion Resources, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Commonwealth of Virginia, the American Nuclear Society, and the Department of Energy, that have shown support for our nuclear engineering program. I believe educating our very bright students in this area will be beneficial to them and to society." Leading the effort in mechanical engineering are two faculty members, Mark Pierson and Eugene Brown. Pierson was formerly on the staff of the director of naval reactors, a joint Department of Defense/Department of Energy organization founded by Admiral Hyman Rickover. Pierson was responsible for operational and maintenance input for all SW5 naval nuclear reactors and shipboard radiological controls. In 1992 he was named executive officer, second-in-command, of the USS Indianapolis SSN 697, a fast attack submarine.
From 1994 until 1997 Pierson served as the submarine maintenance program officer for the director of submarine warfare on the chief of naval operations staff at the Pentagon. In 1998 he was named deputy department head of the engineering, materials, and physical sciences department, and program officer for nuclear ballistic missile submarine security, for the Office of Naval Research. He retired from the U.S. Navy in 2001 and enrolled at Virginia Tech to earn his doctoral degree in mathematics.
"Our long term vision is to create an interdisciplinary program in nuclear science and engineering," said Ken Ball, head of the mechanical engineering department, who also has expertise in nuclear materials and engineering. "Our program would encompass the nuclear sciences and medicine as well as nuclear engineering and reach across three Virginia Tech colleges."