Nuclear and other radioactive materials are used to perform medical treatments, sterilize food, generate electricity without greenhouse gas emission, and conduct other advanced processes. These materials are constantly crisscrossing the United States on their way between manufacturing plants, hospitals, laboratories, storage sites and other facilities.
When the Department of Energy was trying to find a university to educate the workforce that engineers packaging to safely store and ship these materials, the University of Nevada, Reno was an easy choice. Students and faculty at the University had been conducting research on radioactive materials package safety since 1993.
The University's Nuclear Packaging program held its first International Summer School in June at the University's Redfield campus. Packaging engineers, users and university students from around the United States and abroad took courses on Quality Assurance, and the Application of the ASME Code for Nuclear Packaging. These are two of the required classes to earn the accredited Graduate Certificate in Nuclear Packaging, which the University developed in conjunction with Argonne National Laboratory for the Department of Energy Packaging Certification Program.
"With this educational program we are connecting with domestic and international nuclear packaging engineers and users from governments, industry and national labs," Miles Greiner, professor and chair of the University's mechanical engineering department, said.
Twenty engineers from around the United States, and even from Germany, attended the summer program.
"I decided to come to UNR to attend the course to get a better understanding of the ASME code," Benjamin Jech, mechanical and design calculations engineer for the German company GNS (Gesellschaft für Nuklear Service), said. "The course helped me a lot to understand the connections between NRC- the Nuclear Regulatory Commission-, ASME, Regulation Guides and Federal Regulations. With this knowledge I can help my department and my colleagues. I'm convinced that this will support my career growth. The course was perfectly organized. Even for us as foreign students it was easy to follow."
Brian Guntherman, the president of Guntherman Technical Services in New Jersey, and an industry expert instructor, said "the ASME Code and Quality Assurance for Nuclear Packaging courses provide a curriculum that is broad and deep, suitable for both the graduate student and the experienced nuclear worker seeking to increase his or her depth of technical and regulatory knowledge in the areas of nuclear material transportation, spent fuel storage and aging management of storage systems."
National Laboratories Teach Courses
To complete the graduate certificate in nuclear packaging, students choose from 18 different required and elective courses that provide needed knowledge, and fit student specific interests. Experienced subject matter experts from Argonne, Lawrence Livermore, Oak Ridge, Sandia and Savannah River national laboratories teach most of the courses.
Since the program began in 2016, 88 students have earned certificate graduate credit by taking these courses. The program even has a Nuclear Packaging Internship that requires 4-12 weeks in residence at government or industry sites. The intern works with a site supervisor to propose a project, and present midterm and final reports that emphasize professionalism and demonstrate student's abilities to identify, formulate, and solve engineering problems related to nuclear materials packaging. So far, eight students enrolled or completed internships at Argonne and Savanah River National Labs and ORANO TN.
The academic program is designed to provide applied-knowledge that supplements research-based graduate programs in mechanical, materials and nuclear engineering; to increase the number and preparedness of engineers who are able to serve organizations that design and operate radioactive materials packaging; and to serve as a program that organizations can use to train new packaging engineers.
"As the older generation retires, we see a hole in the workforce that needs to be filled," Greiner said. "Our program is helping to train the workforce in critical areas of the nuclear materials industry."
"The program is very important to the DOE from several perspectives," Jim Shuler, manager of the Packaging Certification Program for the U.S. Department of Energy, said. "With the aging population of subject matter experts in the packaging design, procurement and fabrication area, among many others, new personnel are required to continue the work in these areas as personnel retire or move up their career path."
The University's Nuclear Packaging program is growing.
"We are currently creating new courses, and another entirely new graduate certificate in Transportation Security and Safeguards," Greiner said.
Additionally, the University offers graduate fellowships to U.S. Citizens and permanent residents who are qualified to study materials and thermal science for nuclear safety. The DOE Nuclear Energy University Program is also funding fundamental and applied research in these topics.