Monday, April 17, 2017

Corvallis, Oregon to Tri-Cities, Washington

Head east from Corvallis on highway 34. Exit onto I-5 northbound. Exit onto I-205. Merge onto I-84. Take exit 179 to I-82. You have arrived.

Few times has a set of directions made a stunningly beautiful drive sound more mundane.

The pinot noir vineyards and hazelnut orchards of the Willamette Valley flick past the window. Wind through the curves of the Columbia River Gorge, passing Multnomah Falls, Bridge of the Gods, Mount Hood, to the Dalles as you emerge onto the plateau of northeastern Oregon. 

You’re driving on the flat roof of the world now. Cross the Pacific Northwonderland’s largest river at the Umatilla Bridge and take a short jaunt across the sagebrush highlands before dropping into Kennewick and Richland.

It’s a drive familiar to Beaver alumni moving east after college for work at the nuclear facilities, scientific labs, engineering firms, and environmental remediation companies of the Tri-Cities. 

And it’s a drive that Kathryn Higley, Oregon State College of Engineering professor and head of the School of Nuclear Science and Engineering (NSE) made recently.

A Side of Nuclear Science

After Oregon, more School of Nuclear Science and Engineering (NSE) alumni live in Washington State than anywhere else in the country. The majority make their homes in Tri-Cities—the metropolitan area of Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco at the confluence of the Yakima, Snake and Columbia rivers. This made it a natural fit for a recent alumni event hosted by Higley.

Billed as an “Alumni Night Out with a Side of Nuclear Science,” the event was open to all Oregon State alumni and their guests.

After hors d'oeuvres—smoke-cured bacon, empanadas, peppers, toasted baguette slices, stuffed mushrooms and a variety of desserts—Higley shared a brief update on the NSE. Highlights included:

  • the opening of new lab space in the Radiation Center for
  • steady growth in student numbers (318 enrolled in 2016) and research dollars ($5.8 million in expenditures in 2016) which have both quadrupled in the last decade
  • and recent faculty successes like Professor Andrew Klein’s appointment as the current president of the American Nuclear Society and Professor Jose Reyes leadership of NuScale Power in becoming the first company to submit a small modular reactor design certification application (DCA) to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The DCA was accepted for review by the NRC in March, 2017. 

Alumni from 17 majors—the majority engineering disciplines—attended with friends and family.

“I was really pleased with the turnout at our alumni event,” said Higley said. The final tally was somewhere between 50 and 60—“a great turnout” according to Aaron Kerosky, event organizer and Regional Network Director for the OSU Alumni Association. “We really wanted to reach out to alumni in the area.”  

Home to the Columbia Generating Station (the Northwest’s only commercial nuclear power reactor), Pacific Northwest National Lab, the Hanford Site, and nuclear power multinational AREVA’s Operational Center of Excellence to name a few alumni employers, Tri-Cities is a major center of nuclear research and production.

Event attendees included 1987 nuclear engineering alumnus Dan Jordheim. He’s now the NSE’s industry advisory board chair and manager of Fuel Design Neutronics at AREVA. “It was a great event that provided an opportunity for Beavers in the Tri-Cities, eastern Washington, and northeast Oregon to gather and socialize as well as get to hear an update on the status of NSE and Oregon State,” he said. “Alumni who couldn’t make it really missed out on a fun and informative evening.” 

Wanda Munn (’77, nuclear engineering technology) a former Richland city councilor also attended. A member of the College of Engineering’s Engineering Hall of Fame, Munn started her career as a departmental secretary for the nuclear engineering program at Oregon State, before deciding to become a nuclear engineer herself. She went on to work on systems design, construction and operation of the Fast Flux Test Facility at Hanford. Munn won the Society of Women Engineers Distinguished New Engineer award in 1984, the Tri-Cities Engineer of the Year in 1993, and was inducted into the College of Fellows Society of Women Engineers in 1987.

“She’s been a staunch advocate of our program throughout the years,” Higley said. “As one of the first women in our program, I was delighted that she was able to attend.”

Other alumni included Robert Moffit (’74, nuclear engineering). “I was in the first graduating class of nuclear engineering as a stand-alone major at Oregon State,” he said. Moffit went on to help manage the Hanford N-Reactor. A dual-purpose reactor, it both produced plutonium and generated power. Moffit worked at the N-Reactor until its shut down in 1987 after which he joined Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Representing younger alumni, Michael Kennedy (’07, nuclear engineering), also dropped by after work to mingle before taking his young daughter to gymnastics practice. He’s currently working at Columbia Generating Station as a safety analysis supervisor.

The night out was held at The Reach Museum, which features exhibits on local nuclear history, the Hanford Reach National Monument, and the geology of the region. It sits on the banks of the Columbia River just south of the Yakima River delta.

“The setting was absolutely wonderful, and I had a great time sharing memories with the attendees,” said Higley. “I am looking forward to going back soon.” The drive makes the anticipation of another trip even more compelling.