OAK RIDGE, Tenn. – UCOR, EM’s Oak Ridge cleanup contractor, is playing a pivotal role in the first nuclear decommissioning and environmental management minor degree at a university or college in the U.S.
The new University of Tennessee (UT) program, which had its first graduates last year, is designed for the next generation of employees in the nuclear field interested in pursuing careers in EM’s cleanup mission and other nuclear related areas, such as work addressing aging reactors and nuclear facilities around the world. The minor complements a nuclear engineering degree, requiring additional coursework and training related to nuclear decommissioning and environmental management.
DOE Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management Manager Jay Mullis said the curriculum for the minor degree teaches students about a promising career field that will play an increasing role in the global economy and environmental stewardship.
“As DOE facilities and commercial nuclear plants continue to age, safe and timely decommissioning and demolition will become increasingly important,” Mullis said. “We need well trained men and women to lead and advance this mission.”
Professionals in the nuclear field work across the commercial power industry and federal government, including DOE. With a fiscal 2019 budget of nearly $7.2 billion, EM addresses the nation’s Cold War environmental legacy resulting from five decades of nuclear weapons production and government-sponsored nuclear energy research. This mission involves safely decommissioning and removing facilities associated with that legacy.
With the need for nuclear experts expected to grow, UT’s nuclear engineering department began offering the new degree through support from UCOR and its employees.
“Developing and maintaining a trained workforce to work in hazardous nuclear environmental cleanup projects is essential to the future of companies like ours,” UCOR President and CEO Ken Rueter said. “Our industry needs the leaders that this program is producing. In Oak Ridge alone, there are jobs for decades to come associated with environmental cleanup.”
The new degree program has been successful so far.
“As the word spreads and graduates get jobs and experience, we expect participation will grow,” said Wes Hines, head of UT’s nuclear engineering department.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee, who heads the House Nuclear Cleanup Caucus, described the new degree as a great example of how UT is responding to the current nuclear industry workforce landscape.
“As a proud University of Tennessee grad, I am happy that my alma mater leads the pack when it comes to preparing today’s young people for careers in the nuclear industry,” Fleischmann said.
Four people graduated with the nuclear decommissioning and environmental management minor degree in 2018, and 16 students are on track to complete the program this year.
University officials confirmed that all of the seniors in this minor program will be employed after graduation this month, with some slated to join UCOR to support the Oak Ridge cleanup.