Message from the Chair

Conversations about nuclear energy—fission and fusion—are on the rise around the country, including here in Wisconsin. As national leaders in nuclear engineering, we have a valuable role to play in these conversations, whether joining in directly or connecting groups to our networks of experts.

In March 2023, as the chair of the Nuclear Engineering Department Heads Organization (NEDHO), I participated in a series of events in Washington, D.C., along with Assistant Professor Stephanie Diem, to clarify the importance of both fission and fusion energy in the nation’s energy mix. In addition to meeting with legislative staff as part of the NEDHO Hill Day and the Fusion Day on the Hill, we teamed up to provide a lunchtime keynote on recent advances in fusion energy for the UW Day on the Hill.

In April, the Customers First Coalition chose “Exploring the role of nuclear power in Wisconsin’s energy generation mix” as the theme for its “power breakfast.” In addition to joining a panel that included policymakers, utilities and non-governmental organizations, I helped to connect the coalition to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) to share their perspectives. DOE provided an update on federal policy and how it is supporting a new generation of nuclear power plants, while NEI described the unprecedented level of activity happening in state legislatures around the country.

In June, I was honored to be elected fellow of the American Nuclear Society, the organization’s highest membership status.

In July, Professor Chris Hegna (Type One Energy) joined alumnus Ross Radel (Shine Technologies) and affiliate Professor Cary Forest (Realta) on a panel for the Wisconsin Technology Council to discuss the emerging fusion industry in southeast Wisconsin and the roles for their companies in seeing it come to fruition. Tech council President Tom Still started this conversation by reaching out to our department, and he published an opinion piece in the Wisconsin State Journal highlighting Wisconsin’s role in leading the development of fusion energy technologies.

Also in July, the conversation about nuclear energy took me to an unlikely place: the Midwest Renewable Energy Association’s Energy Fair in Custer, Wisconsin. I was invited to appear on the “Rise Up” podcast series hosted and produced by the group’s executive director. Both the podcast and the live appearances allowed a conversation about how small nuclear energy systems can better fit into a more decentralized energy system of the future.

In addition, we have been working to increase access to the UW Nuclear Reactor as a focal point of community interest. In addition to monthly open houses for the UW-Madison campus community and frequent tours for outside groups, it was the centerpiece of a visit from Wisconsin legislators wanting to know more about the university’s role in an expanded nuclear energy future.

Finally, behind the scenes, Professor Oliver Schmitz has been leading the Clean Energy Community Initiative, which aims to better understand how the College of Engineering can directly support the clean energy transitions of urban, rural and tribal communities around Wisconsin. With support from the Department of Life Sciences Communications and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, this initiative will build enduring partnerships with communities, providing enhanced expertise and resources to assist in making future energy decisions, while better informing our researchers about the near-term needs and priorities of communities.

The Wisconsin Idea is alive and well in our department. On, Wisconsin!

Paul Wilson

Grainger Professor of Nuclear Engineering