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Beryl Lieff Benderly

A New Kind of Graduate School to Train Dr. Atomic

What is the lesson of the Fukushima nuclear disaster?  For some people, it’s that nuclear power plants are unsafe and should be closed.  For others, reports Corinna Wu in Prism, the magazine of the American Society for Engineering Education, it’s that the people running the plants need much better training. 

In South Korea, which is in the process of increasing its nuclear power plants from 20 to 28, that need appears particularly great.  In response to that need, Wu writes, a facility that already houses 5 working reactors will add something completely new: the world’s first graduate school devoted entirely to the practicalities of producing nuclear energy.

Slated to open in March, 2012, the Korea Electric Power Company (KEPCO) International Nuclear Graduate School (K-INGS), located at the Kori nuclear facility, will offer two degrees: master of nuclear engineering and doctor of technology.  As the doctorate’s title indicates, “this is not a traditional doctoral degree program,” says KunMo Chung, chairman of the new school’s founding board, as quoted by Wu.  Rather than preparing students for research or traditional engineering work, the curriculum will focus entirely on the systems involved in running, building, and improving nuclear power plants.  The combination of industry participation and practical orientation bears a resemblance to the Professional Science Masters programs gaining popularity in the United States, although those programs are based at and run by universities.  The K-INGS program was developed with the cooperation of a U.S. institution, George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.  
The first class is projected to consist of 50 Koreans and 50 students from other countries around the world.  People with this training are “in demand to the point where nuclear power companies, including KEPCO, are expected to cover the cost of students’ tuition,” Wu writes. “If his ‘experiment’ succeeds,” she adds, “Chung envisions a similar nuclear graduate school springing up in the United States.”