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KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee’s nuclear engineering department will have a lead role in designing standardized, off-the-shelf nuclear reactors.

The U. S. Department of Energy is providing UT $650,000 over three years to develop reactors that do not have to be custom-designed for each location or purpose, said Dr. Lee Dodds, UT’s head of nuclear engineering.

The power industry is seeking a new generation of reactors because nuclear power is potentially more economical and environmentally friendly than other major energy production methods, he said.

Previous reactor designs and shifting regulatory standards drove up costs and led to a decline in their use, Dodds said.

“DOE has implemented this program to develop new nuclear power concepts for the future,” Dodds said. “This grant puts our nuclear engineering department at the forefront of the nation’s nuclear energy research and development effort.”

Working with UT as subcontractors are Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Westinghouse, Newport News Shipbuilding, and Russia’s Institute of Physics and Power Engineering.

UT’s industrial engineering department also will have a significant role in the final stages of the work, Dodds said. The majority of the work will be done at UT, he said.

“We’re all very excited about this award and the recognition it will bring our nuclear engineering department and the university,” said Dr. Jerry Stoneking, dean of the UT College of Engineering.

UT’s nuclear engineering program is ranked 12th in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.