Cameron Goodwin is director of the Rhode Island Nuclear Science Center and oversees the research and test nuclear reactor operated in partnership with the University of Rhode Island on the school’s Narragansett campus.
Goodwin spoke with Providence Business News about the research being conducted with the reactor, the perception of nuclear power in the United States, and the future of nuclear power development.
PBN: How does the power generated by the Rhode Island Nuclear Science Center’s nuclear reactor compare with that generated by a nuclear power plant?
GOODWIN: The Rhode Island Nuclear Science Center is a 2-megawatt research and test reactor. Unlike commercial power plants, we do not generate any electricity. The reactor is used as a source of radiation for conducting research. Unit Three of the Millstone Power Station in New London, Conn., generates 1210 megawatts of electricity.
PBN: What types of academic research are currently being conducted using the nuclear reactor, and what are the practical applications of this research?
GOODWIN: There are only 31 research and test reactors in the United States and luckily for the state, one resides here. We are very focused on providing educational support for the state’s middle schools, high schools and universities. Last fiscal year, we gave approximately 40 tours of the facility and provided 35 laboratories/classes. We are already on track to exceed last year’s numbers. Within the past few months, the facility has been visited or used by students and researchers from URI, Providence College, Brown University, The Greene School in West Greenwich, Three River Community College in Connecticut, Central Falls High School, Rogers High School in Newport, BioPAL Laboratories of Worcester, Rhode Island Hospital and the Boy Scouts of America.
We are currently supporting four high school senior projects, which is an increase from past numbers. We also provide laboratories for the URI nuclear engineering minor as well as the physics department.
PBN: The University of Rhode Island plans to offer a degree in nuclear science. What kinds of jobs are available for graduates with nuclear science training?
GOODWIN: The University of Rhode Island currently offers a minor in nuclear engineering and has plans to create a full major. The job market is wide open for students with this background. There are opportunities in the federal government, such as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy, the national laboratories, nuclear power plants and also at the companies focused on building small modular reactors. Careers in the nuclear energy industry offer challenging work, competitive salaries and benefits, and opportunities for advancement. Nuclear professionals help to protect the environment by supporting the nation’s fleet of emission-free nuclear power plants, which provide nearly 20 percent of U.S. electricity.
PBN: What do you think caused the general misconception that all nuclear radiation is bad, which you have commented on in previous interviews? How can that misconception be altered?
GOODWIN: I think its human nature to be afraid of the unknown. I think the best way to get rid of the misconception that all radiation is bad is through education and that is what we are aiming to do. We are focused on educating the students in Rhode Island, but we are available to provide the same information to other interested parties.
PBN: Do you foresee a future when renewable energies like solar or wind power could replace nuclear energy as a primary power source in the United States? What is the future of nuclear power?
GOODWIN: I think that all renewable energies will have to work together to provide the energy that the country needs. The demand is just too great.
Nuclear power is really moving towards small modular reactors. These reactors are smaller than the current reactor fleet and provide many more passive safety features. They are also able to be scaled to provide the power supply needed. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is expecting its first license application for this type of nuclear reactor this year. If you are interested in more information on how these reactors operate, please visit the Nuclear Regulatory Commission website at www.nrc.gov.