Inside NC State’s nuclear reactor: Students learn about the future of energy

Posted March 11, 2022 6:10 p.m. EST @ WRAL
Bryan Mims, WRAL reporter

RALEIGH, N.C. — The war in Ukraine has sent energy costs soaring leaving many experts hoping that the U.S. will stop relying so much on crude oil and instead seek cleaner sources of energy.

One expert at North Carolina State University said with fuel costs and climate change, nuclear energy should be the answer.

Many people probably never knew there exists a nuclear reactor in the heart of NC State. Students walk by it every day at the Burlington Labs building.

The nuclear reactive, called PULSTAR, has been at NC State since 1950.

“Nuclear technology really has a broad footprint, and that’s our objective here, to use it as broadly as possible,” said Ayman Hawari, director of NC State’s nuclear reactor program.

The reactor does not generate electricity. It’s at NC State for research and education, giving students a chance to operate a real reactor.

It’s a one megawatt reactor. By comparison, the reactor at the Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant outside Raleigh is 3,000 megawatts.

Hawari said nuclear energy is growing not only in acceptance, but in popularity among young people.

“I have a class that has 50 young students right now that want to become nuclear engineers,” he said.  “When you’re operating a nuclear reactor, you’re not emitting greenhouse gases at all, and you don’t add to the climate problem.”

Nuclear power could help the U.S. not rely so heavily on foreign countries for their oil exports

“If we develop nuclear power further, we definitely don’t have to rely on importing energy,” he said. “We would be generating indigenous energy.”

NC State became the first academic institution to design, build and operate a nuclear reactor.