U Engineering student works to make nuclear energy safe. Supervises nuclear reactor.

Making Nuclear Energy Safe

The U is becoming a world leader in nuclear safety culture due in large part to the tireless work and creative energy of Ryan Schow, a nuclear engineering Ph.D. student and supervisor of the U’s nuclear reactor.

“We are the only research university focusing on nuclear safety culture; we are the leader,” said Schow, who in addition to study and maintaining the U’s nuclear reactor, has helped develop and taught courses at the Utah Nuclear Engineering Program for the past two years.

Schow teaches graduate courses that require mastery of reactor physics, operation, regulatory policy and law. He volunteers to teach students reactor operation, writes grant proposals and is actively canvasing support for facility upgrades.

Schow is a Utah native whose nuclear path began after receiving a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from the U in 2001. Since then, he has been a Naval ROTC officer and a commissioned nuclear engineering officer on the U.S.S. Ohio.

After leaving the Navy, Schow earned his reactor operator license at the Donald C. Cook Nuclear Generating Station in St. Joseph, Mich. But his passion is homegrown. “I’ve always wanted my Ph.D. in nuclear engineering,” said Schow. “This was a chance to work, and work on my degree, in Utah with family.”

Describing the importance of nuclear safety culture to address future energy and global nuclear safety concerns, Schow said: “Nuclear isn’t just nuclear power plants. We use nuclear forensics for mineral analysis and neutron activation analysis to track environmental pollution. There’s nuclear medicine; there’s whole different aspects of nuclear you can study in our program.”

Schow outlined an immersive safety culture at the U. “Your role as a nuclear operator is to protect the health and safety of the public,” he said.

He added: “‘Nuclear safety culture’ is a buzzword in nuclear power. The magnitude of the Fukushima natural disaster could have been prevented if they had better nuclear safety culture.”

The U currently offers a master’s and doctorate in nuclear engineering as well as a minor, under the leadership of chair Tatjana Jevremovic.

“There’s a possibility that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will regulate what we’re doing and look to us to be a leader,” Schow said. “There are different aspects of nuclear students can study here. That will set them apart from other students.”


Find this article and a lot more in the 2016 “Student Innovation @ the U” report. The publication is presented by the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute to celebrate student innovators, change-makers and entrepreneurs.

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