Partnership in a more than $400 million contract to operate a nuclear laboratory would further boost MU’s nationally recognized nuclear science program, campus leaders say.
The Columbia and Rolla campuses of the UM system, along with the Shaw Group, a Louisiana-based management company, have formed Shaw Missouri Idaho LLC with the intent of managing and operating a federally owned nuclear laboratory in Idaho for 10 years.
The corporation is one of four teams being considered by the U.S. Department of Energy to establish Idaho National Laboratory as a leading national facility for nuclear energy research, development, demonstration and education within a decade, according to the Energy Department. The lab will also do work in national security technologies.
The contract is worth an estimated $2.6 million a year in a performance award fee, said Ralph Butler, director of the MU Research Reactor. The performance award fee would be separate from the more than $400 million estimated to run the lab.
Years of nuclear research boost MU's chances
MU’s hope of winning the contract comes after years of nuclear research and education.
The Energy Department has shown support for nuclear science departments in the University of Missouri system by awarding the Innovative Nuclear Infrastructure and Education grant to the combined programs on the Columbia, Rolla and Kansas City campuses.
First awarded in October 2003, this five-year grant will provide $1.4 million for this school year to the nuclear science programs at the three campuses. The grant has allowed MU and personnel from the nuclear plant in nearby Callaway County to team up with Linn State Technical College to develop a two-year nuclear technology program at its Advanced Technology Center campus in Mexico, Mo.
MU does not offer undergraduate degrees in nuclear engineering but had 35 students in its master’s and doctoral programs last year. William Miller, a nuclear engineering professor at MU, said the size is average among graduate programs in the United States.
The 2003 Nuclear Engineering Education Sourcebook lists 30 institutions across the country, including MU and UM-Rolla, that have undergraduate or graduate programs in the field. The UM system campuses are two of 27 universities in the United States that have research reactors. MU’s is the largest.
MU program characterized by collaboration
A collaborative effort has been made at MU to bring together all departments that work in aspects of nuclear science. The Nuclear Science and Engineering Institute brings together researchers at the reactor and faculty in chemistry, biology, physics and engineering to promote collaborative research and education. As a result, the department of nuclear engineering at MU has become a part of the institute.
Miller, who is a member of the institute, said that such kinds of interdisciplinary research are important if an institution wants to make important breakthroughs in research and education and that he is not aware of other schools actively taking such efforts to the level being implemented at MU.
Angel Velez, who is working on his doctorate in nuclear engineering at MU, said the program’s nuclear engineering emphasis areas give students a choice and make MU’s program unique. Students can focus on nuclear power, health physics or medical physics. Miller said many other programs focus more on nuclear power.
Miller said he thinks the constellation of offerings at MU — the Nuclear Science and Engineering Institute, the reactor, the degree programs and the DOE grant — make the campus attractive for partnerships such as the one with the Shaw group.
“Just the fact that we have this new organization, and we have the new DOE grant, and we have the research reactor, has positioned us such that people would consider partnering with us,” Miller said. “That’s the kind of opportunity you generate.”
The winner of the Idaho lab contract will be announced in November.