A New Home for the Nuclear Engineering Department

By Robert Corrigan

At the start of the spring semester, nuclear engineering students returned to a very different looking department from the previous term. Over winter break, the nuclear engineering (NE) department made its long-awaited move out of Pasqua Engineering into the former Earth & Planetary Sciences building, now temporarily dubbed the Engineering and Sciences Annex (ESA). I sat down with Dr. Wes Hines, Department Chair, to find out more about the big move and the highly anticipated, soon-to-be-constructed new home for UT’s nuclear engineering department.

“I think if you want to be a top 25, or a number one nuclear engineering department, that you want to have the best faculty, staff, students, and facilities, and our facilities are kind of embarrassing. We have students saying, ‘aww, let’s try and host the next ANS student conference next year,’ and I think, ahhh… let’s not. A. It’s a lot of work, and B. Our facilities are horrible, and I don’t want people to know how bad our facilities are! (Laughs) I mean, they’re O.K., but it’s not something you want to go brag about.”

Hosting the ANS student conference has been a hot topic for students involved in UTK’s ANS student chapter for a long time. According to the ANS student sections committee website, many rival institutions have hosted the conference twice or even three times (see Texas A&M), while UTK has never hosted the event. It is possible that the combination of a new building for NE and new facilities across campus–such as the new student union–will change this in the near future.

EDIT: (3/11/2018) The UTK NE department hosted the Eastern Regional ANS Student Conference in 1980. The meeting was held in Gatlinburg, TN. The student sections committee no longer holds regional conferences, and UTNE has never hosted the national student conference.

But the new building isn’t just for bragging rights. The department will be getting several state of the art facilities, for both research and instruction, including an accelerator-driven fast flux facility which Dr. Hines was particularly enthusiastic about. “If we have something like this fast flux facility,” he said, “there’s no place else in the United States that has that type of facility, so it’d give us some unique research opportunities that no one else will have.” Altogether, the new building will house 23 lab spaces, as well as offices for faculty, staff, and graduate students, not to mention a multitude of group collaboration spaces and conference rooms, weighing in at a whopping three times the overall space that was available to the department in Pasqua.

Further amenities include: shielded laboratories, an approach to criticality facility, a new and improved version of an existing natural circulation experiment, and a high bay to accommodate large projects. There are also plans to construct a SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility)-capable laboratory, potentially allowing for researchers to work on classified projects without having to go to Oak Ridge. Several new teaching labs will be on the first floor, including a Neutronics lab for the NE 401 and 402 classes, a radiochemistry teaching lab, a power plant simulator classroom, and a 60 person lecture hall. There are also multiple smaller classrooms on the upper floors.

Maybe one of the most important additions to the new building, however, may be the inclusion of a POD market convenience store on the first floor. This has been a major concern for students for a long time, as there are currently no campus dining options on The Hill (where engineering students spend most of their day).

One of the things that the department has made sure to emphasize in the new building is the inclusion of collaboration spaces for students and researchers. The plans for the building incorporate small group spaces on every floor, from tiny five person video conferencing rooms to a brand new ANS reading room, all the way up to a massive executive conference room that seats about 30 people. Currently, students in the department, undergraduates in particular, make heavy use of the NE department lounge on the 6th floor of Ferris Hall, and hopefully the collaboration spaces in the new building can serve the same purpose.

In short, it’s out with the old and in with the new for the NE department, with a whole host of exciting changes on the way. Construction is still in the earliest stages, and in the coming months, the process of decommissioning and remediating asbestos in Estabrook and Pasqua will begin in preparation for demolition. The current target opening for the new facility is August 2021.

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Scientists Develop Diamond Battery that Runs on Radiation

By Devon Drey

In December of 2016, physicists and chemists at the University of Bristol Cabot Institute in the United Kingdom posted a press release introducing a next-generation nuclear battery, one that utilizes radiation to generate electricity. This new battery could provide a means for turning radioactive waste into electricity for small or lower power devices.

These batteries can be used as a simpler alternative to RTGs (radioactive thermoelectric generators), which convert heat generated by the radioactive decay of elements (like plutonium) into electricity by using thermocouples. Man-made diamond batteries produce electricity just by being close to a radioactive source. As radiation interacts with the diamond, it creates electron-hole pairs which allow for electric current flow.  “There are no moving parts involved, no emissions generated and no maintenance required, just direct electricity generation.  By encapsulating radioactive material inside diamonds, we turn a long-term problem of nuclear waste into a nuclear-powered battery and a long-term supply of clean energy,” says Tom Scott, Professor of Materials at the Cabot Institute.

The first prototype utilized Ni-63 as the primary source of radiation, but current development aims at using C-14 to improve the efficiency of the battery and to utilize the 95,000 tons of spent graphite blocks generated to date by reactors in the United Kingdom. Researchers discovered that the C-14 mostly exists in the outer layer of the spent graphite blocks, enabling extraction of the C-14 by heating the blocks and gasifying the outer layers. Following gasification, the C-14 gas is compressed into diamonds and wrapped in a nonradioactive layer of C-12 diamond, containing the C-14 and its radiation.

One gram of C-14 diamond can produce 15 joules of energy per day with a 5700 year half-life, a 20 gram alkaline battery can produce up to 700 joules per day for its one day lifetime, and one gram of Pu-238 RTG can produce 2500 joules per day with a half-life of 87.7 years. Professor Scott added: “We envision these batteries to be used in situations where it is not feasible to charge or replace conventional batteries. Obvious applications would be in low-power electrical devices where long life of the energy source is needed, such as pacemakers, satellites, high-altitude drones or even spacecraft.” There are so many possible applications that the researchers created a twitter hashtag (#diamondbattery) where people can tweet them suggestions. To see more ideas suggested by everyday people, go to

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Nuclear Board Game Night

ANS is hosting a board game night Thursday, February 1st. Bring your favorite games and snacks to share in the Nuclear Lounge in Ferris Hall from 7-9 pm.

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Website Under Construction

In the coming weeks, we will be majorly overhauling the website in order to make it a more useful platform for our members to interact with. Any questions about the website can be directed to

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Oak Ridge ANS Dinner Meeting 1/16

The local professional society is holding a dinner meeting this coming Tuesday. See the flyer in this post for more details.

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OR/K ANS November Dinner Meeting

Interested in networking with local professionals in the nuclear industry? The Oak Ridge/ Knoxville section of ANS is holding a dinner meeting on campus Tuesday, November 14th at 5:30 in Room 106 of the Panhellenic Building. To sign up, use this eventbrite link. There are plenty of spots available for students, and it only costs $5 to participate.

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November GBM

We will be having our November General Body Meeting on Monday, November the 12th. The meeting will take place at 5:30 in Min Kao rm. 524. Our speaker will be Matt Cook, from our own department’s Institute of Nuclear Security. He will be talking about his work in cyber security, and there will be free pizza for all students in attendance as always.

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NRC SMR Hearing


On May 15th, the NRC will be hosting a public meeting to discuss topics associated with TVA’s early site permit application for the Clinch River Nuclear Site. Our involvement in events like this is crucial to the media narrative presented. Our voices make a difference!  If you are interested in attending, please sign up here so we can plan transportation. We have plans to establish a system of membership rewards for the coming school year, and events like this will factor hugely into earning membership rewards.

From the NRC Press Release:

The NRC will hold the meetings in the Pollard Technology Conference Center Auditorium, 210 Badger Ave., in Oak Ridge, from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. NRC staff presentations will describe the environmental review process and the proposed review schedule. Each meeting’s presentations will be followed by a formal public comment period. NRC open houses from 1-2 p.m. and 6-7 p.m., will provide members of the public the opportunity to speak informally with agency staff.

The Tennessee Valley Authority submitted the Clinch River application and associated information in May 2016, and provided follow-up information through the remainder of the year. TheEarly Site Permit process determines whether a site is suitable for future construction and operation of a nuclear power plant. The NRC held meetings in Oak Ridge in April 2016 to explain the review process to the surrounding community.

The application, minus proprietary and security-related details, is available on the NRC website. In addition, the Oak Ridge Public Library, 1401 Oak Ridge Turnpike in Oak Ridge, and the Kingston Public Library, 1004 Bradford Way in Kingston, Tenn., have agreed to maintain a copy of the application’s environmental report for public inspection.

TVA is seeking resolution of safety and environmental issues related to a potential small modular reactor at the site, approximately five miles southwest of Oak Ridge. The NRC has established docket number 52-047 for this application. More information about the new reactor licensing process is available on the NRC website.

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Jan 31 Meeting Recap

Thanks to everyone who attended the general body meeting last night! Here are some links to various things discussed in the meeting!

The survey to decide meeting times can be found here.

The OR/K ANS Scholarship application can be found here.

The PPT of different activities discussed last night can be found here.

The survey for what you want ANS to do this semester can be found here.

The meeting minutes can be found here.

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January ANS Meeting

Hey Vols!

The January ANS General Body meeting is this Tuesday, January 31, at 7:30pm in Min Kao 404 (note different room). Make sure you come to hear about all the awesome events we have planned for this semester, plus a free dinner, as always! We hope to see you there!

Also, check out the other nuclear student societies event’s this week. Women in Nuclear (WiN) is hosting a panel discussion tomorrow night (Monday, January 30) at 7:30pm in Min Kao 524. The panel will feature your fellow Nuclear Engineering students who have interned or co-oped at utilities and national labs. The Health Physics Society (HPS) will be holding their monthly meeting (and officer elections) in Pasqua 206 immediately prior to the ANS meeting on Tuesday night at 6:30pm.

Finally, please help us decide our meeting times for this semester by filling out this 10 second long survey. Everyone’s availabilties due to classes and other commitments change each semester, and we want to pick a time that works best for everyone. Meetings will typically be held on the fourth Tuesday of each month – help us decide the time here!

See you later this week and Go Vols!

Your ANS Crew

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