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Environmental engineering graduate student wins DOE nuclear technology R&D award

Megan Harkema, a third-year graduate student studying nuclear environmental engineering at Vanderbilt University, has been awarded a prize in the Innovations in Nuclear Technology R&D Awards competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Fuel and Supply Chain.

Megan Harkema

Harkema’s research paper, The Dynamic Nature of Risk in DOE Facilities in the Surveillance and Maintenance Program—with Observations for Risk Communications, received the second-place award in the Energy Policy category and has been accepted for publication in the journal Risk Analysis.

Harkema and co-authors Steve Krahn, professor of the practice of nuclear environmental engineering, and Henry J. Mayer, emeritus faculty fellow from Rutgers University, explored case studies of former nuclear weapons research and productions facilities at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Hanford Site, a former nuclear production complex on the Columbia River in Washington state, as part of research performed by the multi-university Consortium for Risk Evaluation with Stakeholder Participation (CRESP) group, led by David Kosson, Gass Family Professor of Energy and the Environment and Distinguished Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Vanderbilt.

The paper explores the changes in risk profiles of the facilities studied during the extended period spent in DOE’s Surveillance and Maintenance Program while awaiting full decommissioning. The case studies provide examples of challenges faced in communicating unexpected events or the discovery of new risk-important information to stakeholders such as federal and state regulators as well as the public.

Harkema is the seventh graduate student researcher in the School of Engineering’s Nuclear Environmental Engineering Research Group to win this national R&D award from DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy.

“I believe that this award—the seventh that Vanderbilt students have won over the last 10 years—is a clear recognition of the vibrant research ecosystem that exists in Vanderbilt’s environmental engineering graduate program and our Energy & Natural Resources Research Center,” Krahn said.

The collegiate competition program awarded 22 prizes in 2022 for student publications relevant to nuclear technology. In addition to receiving cash prizes, travel and national conference opportunities are included in the awards.

Contact:  Brenda Ellis, 615 343-6214