Tennessee Tech launches new degree program in nuclear engineering

A view of the cupola on Tech's Derryberry Hall.
A view of the cupola on Tech's Derryberry Hall.

The College of Engineering at Tennessee Tech University announced today the launch of its Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Engineering degree program, only the second such program currently available in Tennessee. The program was formally approved May 16h by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. 

Tennessee Tech students, transfer students and incoming first-year students can transition into a nuclear engineering major over the upcoming 2024-25 academic year.

“We are extremely excited to offer a program in nuclear engineering at a time when it is needed most, as the industry will experience tremendous growth in the next two decades and the demand for nuclear engineers with bachelor’s degrees will dramatically increase,” said Tennessee Tech President Phil Oldham. “Graduates of Tennessee Tech’s Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Engineering degree program can expect to enter the workforce with state-of-the-art engineering knowledge and hands-on experience, and employers can expect them to have the same practical skills, strong work ethic, professionalism and tenacity for which Tech grads are renowned.”

Tech is launching the degree program to address impending demand for nuclear engineers across the country. The program has received key support from federal and state partners, including U.S. Representatives John Rose and Chuck Fleischmann.

In 2021 the Center for Energy Workforce Development projected a need for 15,000 nuclear industry employees by 2026. The industry is undergoing a transformation driven by next-generation technology as small modular reactors recently approved by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission will likely increase the demand for nuclear engineers. In addition, the United States Department of Energy has invested more than $600 million since 2014 to support small reactor concepts. Around 20 percent of the nation’s electricity is generated by 92 existing nuclear reactors in 28 states, according to data from the Nuclear Energy Institute. 

Tech’s nuclear engineering program will also specifically support the economic competitiveness of the state of Tennessee, where 40 percent of the state’s electricity is provided by nuclear energy. In May 2023, Governor Bill Lee signed an executive order setting aside $50 million to invest in establishing a nuclear development and manufacturing ecosystem in the state. “No other state in the country comes close to Tennessee’s legacy, resources, and potential to be a leader in nuclear energy. And there is no long-term national strategy that doesn’t include nuclear energy,” he said in his 2023 State of the State address.

“Nuclear power is vital in the transition to clean energy. Technology innovation in small modular reactors and spent fuel reprocessing is driving tremendous interest throughout industry and government agencies working to unleash American nuclear energy,” said Joseph C. Slater, dean of the College of Engineering. “The nuclear engineering degree program is a tremendous opportunity for students to join the next generation of engineers leading the nation into a sustainable energy future." 

The program will be housed in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and expects to enroll nearly 50 nuclear engineering majors by the program’s fifth year, which would increase the number of nuclear engineering graduates in the state by 25 to 30 percent.

The program curriculum will include principles of nuclear energy production, reactor systems design, spent fuel reprocessing, nuclear safety, and nuclear cybersecurity.

Tech is partnering with nuclear industry firms to provide students in the program with hands-on experience and career opportunities, including establishing internships, collaborating with industry on research projects, providing the latest equipment and technology for hands-on instruction, and providing scholarships and other financial assistance.

“These partnerships have already had a significant impact on the design of our program as the program has gained widespread support and momentum in the year leading up to today’s launch,” Slater said. “Our goal is to have career-ready, working engineers that can immediately support the nuclear energy industry.”

Last year, the university launched a partnership with United Cleanup of Oak Ridge, LLC to build on an existing internship program to create a pipeline of highly skilled workers for UCOR’s environmental cleanup at the Oak Ridge Reservation for the U.S. Department of Energy. UCOR is the Department of Energy’s (DOE) lead environmental cleanup contractor at the 32,000-acre Oak Ridge Reservation in East Tennessee. The company’s 2,300 workers are dedicated to safely reducing environmental risk while enabling new science and national security missions and economic reinvestment at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Y-12 National Security Complex.

In June 2023, Tennessee Tech was awarded $3 million from the U.S. Department of Education’s Higher Education Congressionally Funded Community Projects Program by way of U.S. Representative John Rose's office to acquire equipment and other technology resources needed to outfit the state-of-the-art laboratories needed for nuclear engineering education.

The Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Engineering is the latest addition to the College of Engineering’s eight accredited bachelor’s degree programs with 17 additional concentrations, six master’s degree programs, and a college-wide Ph.D. program that supports chemical engineering, civil and environmental engineering, computer science, electrical and computer engineering, manufacturing engineering technology, and mechanical and aerospace engineering.

For more information on the Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Engineering at Tennessee Tech and to sign up to receive the latest program updates, visit


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