Rensselaer doctoral student Nicholas Thompson ’11 recently led a delegation of students to Washington, D.C., for a weeklong effort to advocate for continued investment in nuclear science and engineering education and to influence national policy on nuclear energy.
Thompson, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering and science, chaired the 2014 Nuclear Engineering Student Delegation (NESD), which serves as the voice of nuclear science and engineering students nationwide. He earned both a bachelor of science in nuclear engineering and a master of engineering in nuclear engineering from Rensselaer in 2011.
NESD members are selected from the nation’s most respected engineering and research universities. During their time in the capital, delegates develop a policy statement and share their recommendations with legislators, other government officials, and policymakers.
“The delegation gives today’s students the opportunity to help shape U.S. policy on nuclear energy, education, and research,” said Suvranu De, professor and head of Rensselaer’s Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering. “The experience is one of many that Rensselaer provides to help prepare our students for their future roles as leaders on issues of national and global importance.”
This year’s NESD policy statement emphasizes the need to maintain or increase support for the Integrated University Program, which is the sole source of federal funds for nuclear science and technology. Other recommendations address issues including nuclear exports and nonproliferation, disposal of used nuclear fuel, emissions regulations, and development of small modular reactors.
“Bringing the students’ voice to these issues can have a powerful impact,” Thompson says.
NESD delegates met with representatives from the Department of Energy, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Environmental Protection Agency, National Energy Institute, American Nuclear Society, and Idaho National Laboratory, and from 90 Senate and over 100 House of Representatives offices. Delegates also met with representatives from industry leaders AREVA and Bechtel.
NESD was formed in 1994, in response to a decision to eliminate federal funding for nuclear research reactors from the FY 1995 budget. Funding was restored after students went to Washington to meet with legislators. NESD members have made annual trips to Capitol Hill ever since.
Thompson has been a member of NESD for three years. During that time, Rensselaer has covered his travel expenses and helped arrange meetings with representatives of area legislators.
“I have met so many leaders in government and the nuclear industry and have learned a great deal about how policy is made and shaped. The experience has enabled me to be a better advocate for the things I believe in,” Thompson says. “I am very grateful to Rensselaer and the department. Without them, I would not have had this opportunity.”