Future of Nuclear

“Advanced nuclear is on the horizon.” Image provided by Third Way #NuclearReimagined

Welcome Michigan Engineering students! As you read the 2020-21 Common Reading Experience Book, Full Body Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of the Rocky Flats by Kristen Iversen we encourage you to consider the past, present, and future of nuclear.  

Please explore the resources linked from this page to prepare for our discussions.

In addition to the resources found on this site, please also consider these student perspectives, provided in response to the book.

“As you discuss Full Body Burden during your discussion section, I hope that you keep in mind three things: 1) the global climate, especially between the US and the USSR, due to the Cold War, 2) nuclear weapons and nuclear energy are not the same thing, and 3) the multifaceted field of nuclear engineering.”
– Mackenzie, current U-M engineering PhD student (Read Mackenzie’s full statement)

“I implore you, before making judgements about the nuclear field based on this book, consider the author’s background and motivation. Do your own research. Ask questions. Talk to anyone in the Nuclear Engineering Department at Michigan, and then come to your own conclusion.”
– Kaitlyn, current U-M engineering PhD student (Read Kaitlyn’s full statement)


1. Where Nuclear Has Been? Addressing the Problems of the Past and Ongoing Clean-up

When you thought about Nuclear Engineering prior to reading this book, you may have had some ideas about it. Did you immediately think of trailblazers like Enrico Fermi or Marie Curie? Cool towers and meltdowns? Medical breakthroughs? Mushroom clouds? Maybe just Homer Simpson. Perhaps more than any other discipline, Nuclear has a controversial past.  

sign at hanford nuclear site

Paying for Our Past: During the arms race of the Cold War, global superpowers were creating bigger, more destructive weapons faster. As a result, the US government incurred a cleanup cost of about $377 billion, and engineers are leading this effort! Explore this interactive map to see current cleanup sites across the United States.

cooling tower

No Boundaries Engineering: It’s more important than ever for engineers work across boundaries to address the problems of the past The nuclear engineering community is doing that with Chernobyl.

2. Where Nuclear Is Headed? The Emergence of Advanced Nuclear Technologies

The road for nuclear engineering is wide open. The field will continue to make advancements in medical, security, energy, environmental and space technology. Engineers’ imaginations will lead the way.

Nuclear Engineering & Radiological Sciences (NERS) at Michigan

Nuclear Engineering is used in a variety of innovative ways including medical diagnosing for Cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, monitoring radiation in the environment, and supplying 20% of the electrical energy in the United States. Explore the University of Michigan’s Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences department website: https://ners.engin.umich.edu/

nuclear reactor

A New Look at Reactors: Imagine never having to hear a family member yell “who messed with the thermostat?!” because home energy is cheaper than ever. Or never having your power go out because your house has a backup mini reactor generator. It could happen, along with a million other cool things.

grad student uses hololens

MTV MVP at U-M: Work is being done for the Consortium for Monitoring, Technology and Verification (or MTV, for short) is being done at U-M under the leadership of Michigan Engineering faculty member, Sara Pozzi. They’re trying to use augmented reality to detect the presence of nuclear weapons.

Out-of-the-Box Thinking: To paraphrase Einstein, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting something different to happen just doesn’t make sense. Read how some of the top nuclear engineers are starting to think differently.

Ultrafast Lasers:  The Center for Ultrafast Optical Science (CUOS) congratulates former CUOS Director Professor Gérard Mourou for being awarded the 2018 Nobel prize in Physics for his role in creating the world’s shortest, most intense laser pulses. This ultra-fast technology allows the study of the most fundamental mechanisms of molecular, atomic and electron interactions.

Professor Todd Allen interviews the co-founders and board chair of the Good Energy Collective, Suzanne Baker, Jessica Lovering, and Rachel Slaybaugh.

3. Nuclear for the Climate

Nuclear Engineering has an important role to play as we consider our climate.

Best-in-Class: It’s our responsibility as the top-ranked university for Nuclear Engineering to work with our colleagues toward a more sustainable future. With that in mind, we’ve launched the Fastest Path to Zero climate initiative.

The Energy Race: Integral to the creation of a low-carbon future is nuclear’s role in the energy race. Nuclear energy works with solar, wind and hydroelectric to create a more livable world.

From Great Minds: But how do we combat nuclear engineering’s negative perception? World-renowned nuclear engineer Kirsty Gogan talks about how to increase public discourse from engineers and environmentalists alike (after all, they’re not mutually exclusive).

Bill Gates on TED stage

Bill Gates helped launch and serves as the Chairman of TerraPower, a company focused on advanced nuclear technology.  Their vision is to create nuclear plants that produce far less waste than existing reactors. One of their projects is a self-fueling traveling wave reactor (TWR) which uses spent uranium from legacy nuclear plants as fuel. They are also working on a molten chloride fast reactor (MCFR) fueled by molten salt.

4. UM Graduates Making a Difference in Nuclear

Rita Baranwal

Dr. Rita Baranwal (MSc, Ph.D, Materials Science and Engineering) was sworn in as the Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy on June 20, 2019. She is the first woman to lead the Office of Nuclear Energy. Dr. Baranwal started her career with the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory, then worked for Westinghouse in the nuclear fuel division. Just prior to joining the Department of Energy, she directed the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) initiative at the Idaho National Laboratory. 

About Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences at Michigan

About Michigan Engineering

Hands-on education. World-benefiting research. Forward-thinking culture. Here at the University of Michigan, we plan to lead the technology evolution and improve the world for the common good. Check out our vision: http://strategicvision.engin.umich.edu/