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Student organization sponsors nuclear safeguards workshop

The 1979 accident at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island nuclear power station in combination with the catastrophe at the Chernoblyl power plant in the former Soviet Union in1986, dampened public confidence in nuclear power. Fossil fuels were cheap and plentiful, and for 30 years, no new plants were built in this country. Many universities simply discontinued their nuclear programs in the face of shrinking career opportunities in field.

But things change.

Since 2007, there have been 17 license applications for 28 new power plants, up to eight of which may go on line by 2018. The pervasive anxiety that nuclear materials may fall into the hands of extremists is growing as well.

The fact that both the growth in the industry and the increased terrorist threat come at a time when the aging nuclear energy workforce is retiring in droves has the nuclear “best practices” organization, the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management (INMM), wondering where they will find individuals trained in nuclear safeguards, non-proliferation and materials control to step into those important industry roles.

This month, the University of Missouri’s student chapter of INMM – the third in the nation – is sponsoring a national workshop to address some of these issues. “A Multidisciplinary Workshop to Train the Next Generation Safeguards Advocate” will be held beginning Tues. evening, February 9, and run through Fri., February 12 at noon. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is helping to fund the workshop, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), along with the INMM Central Chapter, are assisting with planning the event.

Kate Trauth, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, started the student organization in 2007, and continues to serve as its mentor/advisor. She and Jamie Cole, a graduate student in civil engineering who is currently serving as chapter president, have developed content for the event in conjunction with ORNL.

“I’m really excited about this,” said Trauth. “I think we are breaking new ground. We’re hoping to take a look at understanding the challenges and opportunities from various perspectives. We feel that a gathering like this can serve to educate both those in industry as well as faculty and students on the University campus.”

“One-hundred percent nuclear engineers can’t fill the need created by this new emphasis,” said Trauth. “We want to show that students with skills from different areas such as electrical engineering, information analysis, policy and geographic information systems (GIS) will be necessary to address the diverse workforce needs.”

Currently, Electrical Engineering Professor John Gahl coordinates a four-course graduate certificate program in nuclear safeguards at MU for students – degree and non-degree seeking – and professionals, and teaches one class. Trauth realizes that in the tough economic climate, an entire new program in nuclear safeguards is impossible. But she believes that by looking at the issues and starting a cross-discipline dialogue, faculty may be able to identify corresponding courses and research opportunities in their unique curricula with safeguards-related content.

“I got involved last spring,” said Cole. “As my advisor, Dr. Trauth suggested a paper I could write on the topic of safeguards, which I submitted to a conference to be held in July.”

“My undergraduate degree is in bioengineering and I’m finishing my doctorate in civil engineering,” Cole added. “This is something that gives me an opportunity to use a lot of the training that I’ve had so far, like my GIS research in detection, monitoring and image analysis.”

A career fair will be held on the first evening and throughout the workshop. Wednesday’s sessions will focus on the issues from the perspective of the nuclear industry and Thursday will focus on curriculum development – skills, courses and potential.

Space at the workshop is still available. Faculty can register for $25 and students for $20. A limited number of students may have their registration paid by the student chapter of INMM. Interested students and anyone wishing more information may contact Cole at jscole@mail.mizzou.edu.