The University of South Carolina has teamed up with a California nuclear research company to try to develop a different and safer way to generate nuclear energy.
And that will mean tapping into nuclear waste to find ways to safely use more than the three percent that is expended now. That research will likely culminate in a new design for reactors.
That’s the plan for a new SmartState Center of Economic Excellence to be housed at USC.
San Diego-based General Atomics will give $900,000 to establish the General Atomics Center for Development of Transformational Nuclear Technologies, university officials announced Tuesday. The state of South Carolina will match the gift with $3 million to start the center in USC’s College of Engineering and Computing.
This is the first time the company has invested in a university research project like this.
John Parmentola, General Atomics senior vice president, says they were seeking a research university with an innovative approach to nuclear energy research.
“In order to be able to move forward, we need new ideas – transformational ideas,” Parmentola says.
It also helps that the Savannah River Nuclear Labs are nearby.
“The Savannah River Site has resources in the form of facilities and equipment as well as the world-class nuclear chemistry workforce that is essential for the type of work that we want to conduct to create these transformational ideas,” he says.
Parmentola said nuclear energy has served the country well for the past 50 years, but the industry needs new ideas that will assure it remains safe and economically competitive in the years to come.
Now, the school is launching a national search for a recognized expert in nuclear technologies and concepts to hold the endowed chair.
The most important skill for the position, says Parmentola, is leadership.
“Lead people, lead change, results-driven, business acumen, it’s really about leadership first,” says Parmentola.
With safer energy techniques, the U.S. can be less nervous about sharing the nuclear technology with other countries. “We should do it in such a way that we minimize the risk of proliferation, to give them a leg up on making a nuclear weapon,” he says. “We can do that. It’s within our ability and our knowledge and our ability to do this. We just have to prove some things out.”
He says “eager, young minds” at the university are ideal in coming up with planning the future of energy, he says. “They want to create it, then they want to live in it and influence it.”
Parmentola says use of existing waste is more important than ever, without an alternative yet to Yucca Mountain as a long-term storage facility.