A New Vision of Nuclear Power

NuScale Power, co-founded by Oregon State Professor Emeritus José Reyes, has notched a series of important successes over the past two years.

NuScale designs and markets scalable modular nuclear reactors to supply carbon-free nuclear energy. Several years before his retirement from Oregon State, Reyes had run the university’s nuclear engineering and radiation health physics program and directed the Advanced Thermal Hydraulic Research Laboratory at Oregon State.

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In August 2020, the company passed a major regulatory milestone when the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the safety aspects of NuScale’s modular reactor design, thus completing the sixth and final phase of the NRC’s review of NuScale’s design certification application.

“The approval means NuScale customers can proceed with their plans for generation facilities with the understanding that the federal government has signed off on the safety of NuScale’s reactors,” Reyes said.

Two months later, the U.S. Department of Energy approved $1.35 billion for the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems a consortium of cities in the Western U.S. to purchase 12 NuScale reactors the first such undertaking in the country. The plants would be built at Idaho National Laboratory, with the first delivered in 2027 and the rest by 2030.

That same month, the U.S. International Development Finance Corp. agreed to support NuScale in the development of its reactors to produce 2,500 megawatts of power in South Africa.

NuScale has cited Cape Town as a theoretical customer for a 12-module version of its nuclear energy system, saying that such an installation could produce sufficient power to desalinate enough water to keep the entire city going.

And in April 2021, the company finalized an investment and strategic partnership agreement with Japan-based JGC Holdings Corporation. Under the agreement, JGC will provide NuScale with a $40 million cash investment.

NuScale’s small modular reactors are designed to take up 1% of the space of a conventional reactor. The configuration allows as many as a dozen units to be arranged side by side, and the simplified design which does away with pumps, valves, and other moving parts makes the reactors impervious to meltdown, Reyes said.

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Hands-On Nuclear Reactor Simulator

In November 2020, NuScale Power opened the world’s first NuScale Energy Exploration Center. The E2 Center, located in the Radiation Center at Oregon State University, is a collaborative learning facility that offers hands-on opportunities to work through simulated, real-world nuclear power plant operation scenarios.

“It is our hope that this learning facility will foster collaborative problem-solving and creative solutions that inspire future energy pioneers for generations to come,” said José Reyes, NuScale cofounder and chief technology officer and professor emeritus in nuclear engineering.

The center employs advanced computer modeling to replicate a control room for a 12-unit NuScale nuclear plant, allowing users to take on the role of “control room operator.” Over the next several years, students, researchers, operators, and the public will have opportunities to use the facility and better understand NuScale’s small modular reactor design.

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Faculty Member Named ANS Fellow

Todd S. Palmer, professor of nuclear science and engineering, has been named a Fellow of the American Nuclear Society. The honor comes in recognition of Palmer’s sustained contributions in advancing methods and algorithms for computational radiation transport, and their innovative application in the analysis of high energy density and reactor physics systems.

Passing on Knowledge to the Next Generation

Experts have been working to establish an internationally agreed-upon radiological protection system practically since the discovery of X-rays in 1895. Such a system could serve as a basis for national regulations and guidelines.

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“Unfortunately, we are seeing a precipitous drop in the number of radiation protection professionals globally,” said Kathryn Higley, professor of nuclear science and engineering. “It’s difficult for relatively new people in the field to understand all the nuances of the standards and the philosophy behind radiation protection.”

Several years ago, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Nuclear Energy Agency established the International Radiological Protection School to preserve this knowledge. Topics in the school’s five-day sessions typically include ethics, radiation safety, and protection of the environment. With the COVID-19 pandemic making it impossible to hold the school in person, organizers turned to Higley and her former student Mario Gomez, now a nuclear engineer with NuScale Power, to build an online version this summer.

Gomez has attended the school and later helped organize it. Higley, a member of the OECD/NEA board, has experience putting together online courses for Oregon State Ecampus. “By now, we’re pretty familiar with the principles of building online courses and the tools that are available to us,” Higley said.

Because this summer’s school is online, applications have come in from nearly three dozen countries, far more than in previous years. “That’s really the beauty of an online school,” Higley said.

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Cementing a Safe Nuclear Weapons Stockpile

Todd S. Palmer, professor of nuclear science and engineering, leads a group of Oregon State engineers that was recently awarded a five-year, $4.3 million grant from the National Nuclear Safety Administration to work on ultra-high-speed computer simulations for predicting the behavior of neutrons. This research will take place through the Center for Exascale Monte Carlo Neutron Transport, or CEMeNT, which brings together researchers from across the College of Engineering, along with scientists from North Carolina State University and the University of Notre Dame.

Oregon State was one of nine universities chosen as lead institutions for the NNSA’s Predictive Science Academic Alliance Program, which harnesses collaborative university projects and the largest and most powerful computer systems in the world to solve complex scientific and engineering problems.

Palmer’s interdisciplinary team of CEMeNT researchers will build a next-generation simulation tool for modeling the transport of neutrons in rapidly evolving problems.

From Ayacucho to Corvallis

When Lucia Gómez Hurtado was 13, she moved with her family from Ayacucho, Peru, to Corvallis so her dad could pursue a master’s degree in civil engineering at Oregon State University. Gómez soon found herself graduating from high school and considering colleges in the U.S. She ultimately decided to enroll at Oregon State to take advantage of her location and the chance to study a fascinating subject hands-on.

“Having a reactor here on campus was a big factor in my decision to come to OSU,” she said.

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During her sophomore year, Gómez got involved with the Materials Science Research Group run by Samuel Briggs, assistant professor of nuclear science and engineering. Briggs’ research examines the degradation of materials in nuclear reactor environments. Gómez focused on a niobium-copper alloy, specifically looking at how its component elements respond in high-temperature heating experiments.

“One of the challenges of designing next-generation nuclear reactors is choosing and manufacturing materials that will be able to withstand extreme conditions within a reactor core,” she said.

Gómez’s family unexpectedly returned to Peru shortly after she began her undergraduate degree. While she misses them and says her heart is in Ayacucho, she’s thankful for their support and the opportunities they’ve provided for her to pursue her education, which will continue as a graduate student.

“I’m proud of the path that I’ve taken,” she said. “As a kid I didn’t even know what nuclear engineering was. But coming here and pursuing this career has been an incredible experience.”

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NSE Head Brings Decades of Experience

Brian Woods was recently named head of the School of Nuclear Science and Engineering. Woods, who also holds the Henry W. and Janice J. Schuette Chair in Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics, joined the Oregon State faculty in 2003. Prior to academia, he worked as a diver for the U.S. Navy, an engineer at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Restoration, and an engineer at Dominion Energy’s Innsbrook Technical Center in Virginia. His research interests are in the design and safety of small and intermediate modular nuclear reactors, and advanced fission and fusion reactor concepts.

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Tracing COVID-19 Through the Community

In April 2020, Oregon State University researchers from four colleges, including the College of Engineering, partnered with community health organizations to randomly test residents of Corvallis to determine the prevalence of the virus that causes COVID-19.

The door-to-door effort, called TRACE, was among the first in the nation to provide a picture of an entire community’s COVID-19 wellness in order to help people make more informed decisions about their health. The project has since expanded to cities throughout the state of Oregon, with more than 60,000 people tested over the first year.

Kathryn Higley, professor of nuclear science and engineering, brings many years of emergency preparedness work to her position as associate director of the project.

“My role has been to have situational awareness across the different components of TRACE — including the field tests, the lab work, the sequencing, and the sampling statistics — and make sure everything runs smoothly,” Higley said.

New Hires

Alexander Chemey


Nuclear Science


Alexander Chemey joins the faculty this fall as an assistant professor. He earned his doctorate in radiation chemistry in 2019 from Florida State University. Prior to joining the faculty, he was a postdoctoral scholar in the Loveland Nuclear Chemistry Laboratory in Oregon State’s Department of Chemistry. His research focuses on studying pure and applied nuclear reactions, chemically isolating valuable isotopes, and developing new materials required for advanced proliferation-resistant fuel cycles.