One of the first nuclear engineering programs in the United States was established at Virginia Tech in the mid-1950’s and continued until the mid-1980’s when it was abandoned due to a drop both in student interest and government support. In 2006, as a result of interest shown by the nuclear industry in Virginia, discussions were undertaken that led to the approval to offer Master’s and Doctorate Degrees in nuclear engineering in 2013. In parallel with these efforts, we began teaching undergraduate courses in anticipation of offering a minor in nuclear engineering to all Virginia Tech engineering and science students. Currently we have 140 undergraduate students taking nuclear engineering classes, nuclear engineering undergraduate research hours, and participating in nuclear-engineering-related senior design activities.
Our program has been conceived and designed with the objective of providing the nuclear engineering workforce required to address the most important nuclear-related issues of our time including: enhancing the safe and productive use of nuclear energy; contributing to the development of advanced technologies for national and international nuclear security and safeguards; developing advanced medical devices for nuclear diagnostics and therapy; and the establishment of effective policies for the utilization of nuclear energy and its regulation.
The Master’s degree program involves 7 courses and the equivalent of two semesters of thesis research for a total of 30 credit hours. The PhD program, which builds on the Master’s degree program, requires 5 additional courses, and the equivalent of 4 semesters of dissertation research for a total of 60 credit hours beyond the Master’s degree. The curriculum is supported by a rigorous, benchmarked assessment and evaluation process to assure that the goals of the program are attained.
Currently five faculty members support the nuclear engineering program, and typical total enrollment in our graduate programs runs between 35 and 50 students. When we reach full strength, with the addition of two more nuclear engineering faculty members, we expect to be graduating 12 Master’s students and 7 PhD students per year.