A Looming Shortage Of Nuclear Engineers?

June 28, 2001

On what may be the eve of a nuclear power renaissance, prestigious U.S. universities are shutting down programs devoted to training new generations of nuclear engineers. Such moves could delay the revival of nuclear power and industry insiders are concerned.

  • Last month, Cornel University trustees voted unanimously to close the university's research reactor -- the only one in New York State and the Ivy League's last.
  • The University of Michigan and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are considering doing the same thing.
  • The number of campuses sporting reactors has fallen from 40 in 1988 to 28 today -- and only about half of those operate more than a few hours each year.
  • The Energy Department identified just 570 students nationwide majoring in nuclear engineering in 1997 -- down from 1,500 five years earlier.

Academic observers report that student interest in a career in nuclear engineering has been waning. Under public policies that put expansion of the industry on hold for well over a decade, students perceived a decline in future career opportunities.

But the irony is that there is still substantial demand for nuclear engineers. Universities with nuclear departments have supplied the senior engineering staff and executives at the nation's 103 commercial power reactors -- as well as engineers for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Source: Matthew L. Wald, "Nuclear Programs Are Losing Ground on Campus," New York Times, June 28, 2001.

 

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