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New funding for nuclear education in Tennessee
Submitted by Lindsey Tipton, TNECD
May 19, 2024, 10:12 a.m.

Roane State Community College and University of Tennessee, Knoxville are the newest recipients of funding from Tennessee’s Nuclear Energy Fund. The additional dollars will support the state’s growing nuclear workforce by assisting both institutions with nuclear program development and implementation.

NASHVILLE, TN – Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Stuart C. McWhorter announced today that the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and Roane State Community College will receive funding from Tennessee’s Nuclear Energy Fund.

The institutions will use the additional dollars to support existing nuclear programs as well as develop and implement new nuclear education curriculum.

“Our administration created the Nuclear Energy Fund in partnership with the Tennessee General Assembly to support and expand the state’s nuclear ecosystem,” said Gov. Lee. “Tennessee has the right assets in place to become a top state for energy independence, and we are proud to partner with the University of Tennessee and Roane State Community College to upskill our talented workforce and better prepare Tennesseans to enter the nuclear field.”

The University of Tennessee will establish a new program for non-nuclear engineers to obtain a minor in nuclear engineering at its Knoxville campus. The additional degree will better prepare these engineers entering the nuclear energy field and will shorten the time needed to provide extensive training by their employers.

“This is indeed an exciting time for nuclear growth in Tennessee, and we are eager to offer this nuclear power engineering minor to better prepare our engineering graduates to meet the growing needs of the nuclear community,” said Dr. Wes Hines, Nuclear Engineering Head, University of Tennessee, Knoxville. “Our expertise in these areas, combined with access to top-notch facilities, will provide students with an educational opportunity they can’t get anywhere else and put them in a position to be immediately sought after by industry for their skills.”

Separately, funding will also be used to support Roane State Community College in purchasing laboratory equipment for its inaugural nuclear technology program, which launches in the fall of 2024.

“The nuclear renaissance is real here in the heart of East Tennessee, and this region will lead the country in developing a clean, reliable source of power for the future,” said Dr. Chris Whaley, President of Roane State Community College. “The rapid growth in this technology requires a new labor force of educated, trained and skilled employees committed to this new industry. These dollars from the Tennessee Nuclear Energy Fund will allow Roane State to establish a state-of-the-art program and laboratory for experiential learning.”

Both campuses, which are in close proximity to Oak Ridge National Laboratory, will play a vital role in attracting nuclear companies to the region with the enhanced curriculum and equipment.

With assets like Oak Ridge National Lab, East Tennessee is our state’s focal point for nuclear energy, so it is important that we support our existing institutions with the tools needed to prepare a workforce that is ready to enter the nuclear energy field,” said Commissioner McWhorter. “These workforce projects are the first of many that will build out Tennessee’s nuclear sector by attracting new investment and high-quality jobs to the region.”

The Nuclear Energy Fund was in Gov. Lee’s recommended 2023-2024 budget and approved by the Tennessee General Assembly. The $50 million fund aims to expand Tennessee’s nuclear development and manufacturing ecosystem.

The fund assists nuclear power-related businesses choosing to relocate or grow in the Volunteer State and supports the state’s universities and research institutions in further developing their nuclear education programs.

The projects announced today were vetted and recommended by the Education and Workforce subgroup, part of the 22-member Tennessee Nuclear Energy Advisory Council.

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