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The New Discipline Of Nuclear Engineering

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.569.1 - 3.569.5

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Jeffrey P. Freidberg

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 1377

The New Discipline of Nuclear Engineering

Jeffrey P. Freidberg Massachusetts Institute of Technology

I. Introduction

Like many nuclear engineering departments throughout the United States, the department at MIT has been carefully analyzing and planning its future strategy in order to maintain a strong and viable program. This planning, which by now has extended over approximately half a decade, is far more encompassing than the normal evolution of engineering curriculum. Extensive long range planning has been required because of the particular problems facing the nuclear engineering community.

The primary problems are by now well known. There is declining interest in nuclear power in the United States with no new orders in the foreseeable future. Similarly, fusion research has been significantly curtailed in recent years by the Congress and the United States Department of Energy leaving the program with an unstable and somewhat unpredictable future. The net result has been a reduction in the number of students entering the nuclear engineering profession. Since strong student enrollment is the lifeblood of any academic department, these problems threaten the well being, and in some cases the actual existence, of nuclear engineering departments throughout the country. A related problem concerns university research reactors. With declining student interest and many reactors due for relicensing, university administrators are often tempted to shut down and decommission such facilities.

Nuclear engineering departments have responded to these problems with a number of new initiatives which have been somewhat, but not completely, successful. For example, in the fission area there are substantial efforts underway to study methods of improving performance and to extend lifetimes of existing power plants. Also, although the fusion budget has been reduced, the new emphasis on basic fusion science and engineering should benefit university programs to the extent that a stable future can be maintained. These initiatives and trends have helped to stem the tide of reduced student interest but have not, by themselves, led to increased student enrollment.

By and large the most popular and successful strategy to generate increased student interest in nuclear engineering is the new emphasis placed on non-power applications of radiation for societal benefits, particularly those related to medicine and biology. This general area of research is referred to as “radiation science and technology (RST).” The sub-area related to medicine and biology is sometimes called “radiological sciences,” or “bionuclear technology.” By whatever name the combination of an intellectually rigorous curriculum, coupled with the prospects of helping fellow human beings in a fairly direct one-on-one basis, is a very enticing option for many students. Nuclear engineering departments that have initiated such programs


Freidberg, J. P. (1998, June), The New Discipline Of Nuclear Engineering Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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