The next generation… and nuclear energy

Recently we had a chance to visit the nuclear programs at Washington State University in Pullman, Wash. and Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore. Both universities are home to TRIGA research nuclear reactors. And some pretty amazing students.

We wanted to talk to the students in these programs about nuclear energy, what drew them to it, what did they think about it, and why they thought nuclear energy is important to the future energy mix. We compiled their answers into three short video clips you can find on our YouTube page.

Some of the students are considering a future career working at a nuclear energy facility. But others were looking at careers in medical research, academia, nuclear regulation or other fields. They are bright, sharp, in short, very impressive.

Jackson is a nuclear engineering student at Oregon State University.

Jackson is a nuclear engineering student at Oregon State University.

Jackson, for instance, is at Oregon State University and is pursuing a PhD. in nuclear engineering. It’s quite a change from his past life: a chef at restaurants in Portland and San Francisco. He explained his research and it sounded suitably complicated. But he’s fascinated with nuclear energy and the benefits it can bring society as a carbon-free source of energy.

Katie studied biology at Washington State University and on the side became a reactor operator for the one megawatt TRIGA research reactor. TRIGA stands for Teaching Research Isotope production General Atomics. These small reactors were installed at universities around the country as part of President Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program.

Katie operates the research reactor at Washington State University.

Katie operates the research reactor at Washington State University.

Like many of the other students, she fielded the inevitable questions/comments about working in a nuclear facility (many involving the color green), but once the conversation moved beyond that, she says there is a genuine interest in the work she does – and in nuclear energy.

“I think a lot of my peers have a positive outlook about nuclear energy,” she told us. “We’re very concerned about the environment and climate change and we’re starting to look more toward nuclear energy as something that can combat climate change.”

Sophia is a nuclear engineering major at Oregon State. She grew up traveling the world in a military family and told us her first nuclear energy experiences came from learning

Sophia studies nuclear engineering at Oregon State University.

Sophia studies nuclear engineering at Oregon State University.

about the reactors that power aircraft carriers and submarines. Her future interest is perhaps working for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.


If you would like to find out more about each nuclear research facility, visit their websites:

Washington State University

Oregon State University

As some may be aware, Oregon State is the birthplace of NuScale Power, the company at the forefront of small modular reactor development.

This experience showcased STEM education in action. Serious students in pursuit of knowledge – not just how things work, but how life can be made better through learning and applied research.


In this season of college basketball madness, a nuclear reactor pulse is as close as you can come to the thrill of a buzzer-beater off the court.

An iPhone was floated in a Plexiglas container in OSU's TRIGA Reactor to film a pulse -- a rapid insertion of reactivity, bumping the power from 15W to about 400MW and then back in a fraction of a second. (Courtesy OSU)

An iPhone was floated in a Plexiglas container in OSU’s TRIGA Reactor to film a pulse — a rapid insertion of reactivity, bumping the power from 15W to about 400MW and then back in a fraction of a second. (Courtesy OSU)

A sincere thank you to both schools for allowing us to talk to their students and visit their facilities.

(Posted by John Dobken)

One thought on “The next generation… and nuclear energy

  1. Pingback: 254th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers | Hiroshima Syndrome

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