Over the past four decades, nuclear energy has become a viable source of power in the US and the world. In the US, there are over 100 power plants on-line reliably producing about 20% of the nation's electricity. This represents an investment on the order of over $200 billion, and employs several thousand professional engineers. France and countries in the Pacific Basin (Korea, Japan and Taiwan) generate over 50% their electricity from nuclear energy, and developing countries such as China and India also expect to depend heavily on this form of energy. Furthermore, the use of nuclear power is almost certain to increase in the future as the environmental restrictions associated with the burning of fossil fuels become more severe; i.e., nuclear power is the dominant form of energy that does not emit greenhouse gases. Recent events in the state of California, in January 2001, with electricity deregulation only further emphasize the need for reliable, clean and safe forms of electrical energy.
The safety record of the use of nuclear energy to generate electricity in the US and the world has been truly phenomenal. Not a single worker nor member of the public has been killed by radiation in a commercial nuclear power plant accident in the US, and with the exception of Chernobyl, the same statement applies worldwide as far as is known. In fact, this safety philosophy is now being applied to nuclear plants in former Soviet Bloc countries. During the last decade, emphasis in the nuclear fission reactor industry (i.e. light water reactors) has been even more focused on safe, reliable and economic operation of those plants currently on-line.
This shift in emphasis has also caused design efforts in the advanced nuclear reactor concepts such as advanced converter reactors, the fast breeder reactors, and fusion reactor concepts to consider environmental sustainability, inherent safety and reliability within the context of an economic engineering design. This new emphasis on a better new product and an improved current product has resulted in the need for research efforts in this area of engineering systems technology.
The Wisconsin Institute of Nuclear Systems is an excellent mechanism to focus current research at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The Institute promotes effective communication between faculty, students and staff in specific specialties; e.g. health physics, multiphase flow, materials science, neutronics and reactor physics. The Institute also facilitates communication with researchers outside the University that seek the results of our work or financially contribute to its continuance. In addition, the Institute focuses research efforts in targeted areas; enhancing opportunities for cooperation, particularly where interdisciplinary work is essential for success.