March 15, 2002

U.S. Senator Advocates for Ward Funds

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Following on the heels of a statement released last week by the National Association of Cancer Patients, the closure of Cornell’s Ward Reactor has now attracted the attention of a U.S. Senator.

In a letter sent to Hunter R. Rawlings III, the Board of Trustees, and Robert Richardson, vice provost of research, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) reemphasized the availability of Department of Energy (DOE) funds to support the reactor and stressed value of small, university facilities.

Controversy

“Far from being irrelevant, small, university-based reactors play a crucial role in training future nuclear scientists,” Bingaman wrote Monday. “As you are probably aware, the controversial energy legislation being debated in the Senate and the energy bill passed last year by the House both include provisions to significantly increase support for university reactors.”

Bingaman is chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The Committee deals with oversight and legislative responsibilities for national energy policy.

Last week, Cornell administrators said that the decision to decommission the reactor is final and will not be reconsidered. Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations, confirmed that the administration’s stance has not changed since then. The decommissioning process is scheduled to begin on June 30, 2002.

Jude McCartin, a spokesperson for Bingaman, said yesterday that the letter was prompted by the Senator’s concern for the education and training of students interested in pursuing nuclear sciences and engineering. According to the DOE, enrollment in nuclear engineering programs in 2002 will be about 50 percent higher than in 1999.

“Cornell’s program has been an important and to lose that reactor would mean, perhaps, that fewer people would be available to fill the jobs of the future,” McCartin said.

Bingaman’s interest in the Ward facility comes nearly a week after Nicki Hobson, executive director of the National Association of Cancer Patients, implored the University to reverse its decision in a letter addressed to Rawlings. Hobson touted the reactor’s capability to produce life-saving medical isotopes for use in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

In February 2001, Bingaman sponsored the DOE/University Nuclear Science and Engineering Act, which was designed to boost federal funding to support university nuclear science and engineering programs. The legislation also included a plan to recruit new students into nuclear science and engineering by authorizing a five-year, $238.8 million grant for university research and recruitment programs.

In addition, the Act would have set aside $108.9 million to upgrade and maintain university reactors and $5.9 million for DOE/university partnerships.

The Act was later incorporated into the Daschle-Bingaman Energy Bill, which is currently being debated in the Senate.

Bingaman’s letter to the administration highlighted the DOE’s Innovations in Nuclear Infrastructure and Education program, which is designed to strengthen engineering programs through the, “innovative use of university reactors and by encouraging strategic partnerships between universities, national laboratories, and industry.”

Ward Lab officials have expressed interest in applying for regional reactor status with the DOE. A DOE grant, which would provide the University with up to $2 million per year, would allow the College of Engineering to develop new facilities in conjunction with the existing reactor and to hire staff related to nuclear science and engineering.

An application cannot be submitted however without the approval of Richardson, who said last week that the decision to decommission the reactor has been finalized.

Senator Bingaman’s letter is the latest in a series of objections to the controversial decision to shut down the TRIGA nuclear fission reactor, which was approved unanimously by the Board of Trustees last summer.

The Faculty Senate rejected the plan to decommission in full nearly a year ago. Undergraduates also opposed the decision, staging a rally in front of Day Hall in October.

“[Bingaman’s interest] is an indication that the closing of this reactor will be felt on the national level,” said Mark Deinert grad who conducts research at Ward Lab.


Archived article by Jason Leff