At Cape Fear, 20 years of nuclear technology graduates

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Cape Fear Community College’s (CFCC) Nuclear Technology Associate Degree. As the terms climate change, decarbonization and clean energy become commonplace, providing quality education for those pursuing careers in clean nuclear energy is more important than ever.

In 2003, CFCC and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) established a nuclear technology program. The two organizations collaborated to develop a curriculum that would provide quality training for the next generation of nuclear reactor technicians. In 2008, the program enrolled its first students.

CFCC’s nuclear technology associate degree program prepares students to become reactor field technicians qualified to work in licensed nuclear reactor facilities. The program includes a work-based learning component, allowing students to learn first-hand in a real-world environment.

Since the 1960s, GEH has supplied boiling water nuclear reactors for power generators. In the early 2000s, GEH moved its boiling water reactor design and service team to its Wilmington facility. Today, GEH has over 2,000 employees and is at the forefront of designing and manufacturing small modular reactors using boiling water technology to produce electricity. In addition, an agreement with TerraPower positions GEH to help provide the electricity market with an advanced nuclear reactor product.

Specialists from GEH teach specific courses within the program. Their instruction allows students to learn from experienced industry professionals. One of those GEH specialists was John Zino, Principal Consulting Engineer for Advanced Installation Technology.

“It has been an absolute pleasure to support CFCC’s nuclear technology program for the past eight years as a part-time instructor,” Zino said. “The experience allowed me to work with some very talented and motivated ambitious young nuclear professionals in their quest to gain the fundamental technical knowledge needed to contribute not only to the success of GEH, but to the success of the entire nuclear industry.”

With 20 years of education in nuclear technology, this is a signal of success for Cape Fear. Taylor King, who graduated from the program in 2018, currently works for GEH in their Technical Services department. Taylor’s experience is emblematic of this partnership.

“Cape Fear Community College provided me with an education and a launching pad for success,” King said. “The nuclear technology program gave me the skills and knowledge to become a skilled nuclear technician. I am grateful for the opportunities that CFCC has provided me, as well as the instructors who have cared deeply about my success and growth. Their guidance and support were instrumental in shaping my path to success.”

A 2011 graduate of the program, Clayton Harding credits CFCC for his successful career. “My nuclear maintenance degree offered me a direct path to a career as a GE field service support contractor. I spent 13 years supporting GE, moving from reactor service technician to project manager. Now I train the new students of the program, lead projects in the field and support the program as an advisory committee member.”

CFCC’s course offerings continue to bring value to the nuclear technology program. The program’s current instructor, Lindsay Calden, brings her nuclear engineering background as the head of NASA’s Fission Surface Power Project to the classroom.

“One of the biggest challenges we face within the nuclear industry, both with space and ground systems, is how do we attract the next generation of technicians and engineers to build our nation’s nuclear workforce?” Calden said.

“I am excited to be a part of a well-structured curriculum that offers training for success in the nuclear field. Not only can CFCC students receive a quality education, but they are provided with the resources they need to immediately enter the workplace as well-trained nuclear technicians, and all students continue their education after CFCC by earning a Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Engineering from schools such as North Carolina State University. It’s an exciting time in the country with advances every day in reactor systems, and CFCC is a great opportunity for anyone who wants to be a part of it.

CFCC continues to grow the program by expanding its existing partnership with NC State University. In 1950, NC State established the first university reactor program and nuclear engineering curriculum in the United States. Today, the program is home to the only PULSTAR reactor still in operation. The reactor provides students with hands-on training and real-world experience. The partnership between our two institutions allows CFCC nuclear technology students to visit and operate the PULSTAR reactor, as well as take fuel rod samples and dosimetry.

Another part of the relationship with NC State includes access to their collection of advanced nuclear technology/small modular nuclear reactors. This resource gives the reader a better understanding of the latest nuclear power technologies, including those GEH is bringing to market.

CFCC’s partnership with GEH to train future reactor field technicians extends beyond the classroom. In 2015, GEH established a Nuclear Maintenance Technician Scholarship to support students in the Nuclear Technology program. This $3,000 annual scholarship is open to any nuclear technology student with at least a 3.0 GPA and who attends CFCC full-time.

To further celebrate 20th anniversary of the Nuclear Technology Program, CFCC has partnered with Sonic Systems, a leading global nuclear support provider, to provide well-paying student employment opportunities. Sonic Systems will hire students at $26 per hour and offer a clear path to advancement with GEH. Go here to learn more about the Nuclear Technology Training Program.

Jim Morton

Jim Morton is president of Cape Fear Community College. Before becoming president in 2018, he served as the college’s executive vice president and vice president for business and financial services. Morton is committed to partnerships with local businesses across industries, positioning CFCC as a major player in the economic development of southeastern North Carolina while strengthening the college’s academic partnerships with K-12 and postsecondary transfer institutions.

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