Educating tomorrow’s nuclear forensics experts and reactor operators

Students gain unique, hands-on experience at the WSU Nuclear Radiation Center

Since the close of World War II, America has sought to reduce the threat of nuclear war. Yet, some 70 years later, a growing number of nations possess nuclear weapons. Global stability remains fragile.

In the interest of national security, Washington State University trains the next generation of nuclear forensic and radiochemistry experts. Don Wall directs WSU’s Nuclear Radiation Center, which offers students rare learning opportunities.

The crown jewel of the center’s array of research equipment is a 1 MW TRIGA nuclear research reactor. WSU is one of a handful of sites in the U.S. where students in any discipline can gain hands-on experience with a live reactor while earning a nuclear reactor operator license.

Dr. Wall is a senior reactor operator, licensed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. An expert in operator training, he has brought national recognition to WSU training programs.

The research reactor is widely used in WSU’s radiochemistry research program, which produces roughly half of all radiochemistry Ph.D. graduates in the nation.

WSU scientists work side by side with experts at the National Laboratories—not surprising since Dr. Wall himself was formerly a scientist at Sandia National Laboratories. The University’s partnerships with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and Argonne National Laboratory give students the chance to work alongside preeminent researchers.

In 2015 the National Technical Nuclear Forensics Center selected WSU to host the sixth annual Nuclear Forensics Undergraduate Summer School, in collaboration with PNNL. The program attracts an elite corps of engineering and science students from throughout the country. It prepares students to serve on security forces that verify nuclear treaty compliance.