T.J. has given me permisison to post this bit he wrote to the Peace and Justice commission. It’s interesting history, but I’m not sure nuclear energy will become a major energy source in the future. Then again, former president Duderstadt was very involved in the U.S.’s nuclear rocket program, and if that’s what Bush is thinking of (see below) then Nuclear Engineers might suddenly come into high demand.

“Pierce and P&J,

I saw on Goodspeedupdate that you were going to have a meeting about the budget cuts. Give the administrators hell.

Anyway, as fodder for your fight, I wanted to point out something to you that you might not have known.

Under James Duderstadt, the University of Michigan built the best Nuclear Engineering program in the world. Yes, the world. Yes, better than MIT and Cal Tech. Yes, both undergrad and graduate.

Duderstadt, a renaissance man that never gets the credit he deserves, not only ran the University and published books on college athletics, but he is also a nuclear engineer and author of several nuclear engineering textbooks used in colleges around the country. When he stepped down from his post as president, he returned to his role as professor of nuclear engineering.

Well, a little over a year ago, the University decided to decommission the reactor. The reactor is the core of any nuclear engineering program, and to shut down the reactor is to effectively castrate the program.

As a result, professors have fled left and right. Student enrollment has dwindled, and the quality of teaching has dropped, as all the young bright minds in the faculty are now more concerned with finding positions at other schools with functioning reactors. Most importantly, the program is no longer getting the research grants and corporate sponsorship that they once were.

Worse, the students that *are* still in the program are now forced to travel to Midland, MI to do their required reactor lab work. Not only do they have to find their own transportation (which is harder than you would think, considering that many in the program are international students who have no car), but the trips fall on Tuesdays and/or Thursdays only. The length of the lab and the hour and a half drive each way means that students can only take the reactor lab on Tuesdays and Thursdays, meaning that their Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are packed solid. A lot of people are taking 16-18
credits or more, and when 13-15 of those are falling on Mondays and Wednesdays, that is insane.

Obviously, the program is dropping in the rankings. In the two sets of rankings since the reactor was decommissioned, UM has dropped both times. UM is now #3 in their graduate program, and in a tie for #5 in undergrad. With the exodus of faculty, dwindling enrollment, and lack of research money, the program is going down the tubes.

Most schools would do anything to have a program ranked #1 overall. It would be the crown jewel of their institution. UM had one, more importantly, it was in a field that has a profound impact on our future, especially as oil reserves begin to dry up.

But the administrators at UofM decided to throw it away.

The worst part is, it’s not really reversible. I was going to author a resolution last fall that would have called on the University to turn the reactor back on, but it’s not that simple. A reactor cannot be just turned back on, once it is decommissioned, it’s done. From what I am told, it would be twenty years or more before it could be “recommissioned,” the only other option at this point would be to build a new one.

With the budget cuts being the way they are, I don’t see building a new nuclear reactor as being at all likely. So basically, this e-mail is intended to let you know about a situation that happened right under our noses within the past two years, and nobody knew about it. It can and will happen again if students are not given a say in the process.

Best of luck to you in this fight, and if I can be of any assistance to you, do not hesitate to e-mail.


Author: Rob