UNR awards first nuclear materials packaging program certificate

The first student has completed the University of Nevada, Reno’s Nuclear Packaging Graduate Certificate program, the only such program in the nation. Daniel Perlstein, an employee of the Nevada National Security Site, completed the Mechanical Engineering Department’s specialized education program that began in 2015.

The new Graduate Certificate in Nuclear Packaging teaches students how to safely transport, transfer, dispose of, and store nuclear and other radioactive materials used in electricity generation, medical treatments, food sterilization and other advanced applications.

“Daniel, a mechanical engineering graduate from UNLV, was one of our first students,” Professor Miles Greiner, chair of the University’s Mechanical Engineering Department and director of the Nuclear Packaging program, said. “The Nevada National Security Site needed packaging engineers, which are in very short supply. They felt the best way to be successful was to hire Daniel and train him to be a packaging engineer. His managers were familiar with our program.”

Perlstein graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in spring 2015, and finished the certificate program in a little less than a year, continuing to work as well as traveling to the National Lab sites where most of the classes are offered. He works in the Security Site’s Infrastructure Management and Modernization Directorate, and is continuing his career there.

“The certificate program was extremely helpful and provided me with a variety of information, tools and contacts needed to help guide me through my career as a nuclear packaging engineer,” Perlstein said. “I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to participate in the program. If it wasn’t for the nuclear packaging program, it would have taken at least four or more years to gain the same amount of experience in the field.”

Nuclear packagings protect the public and environment during the storage, transport and disposal of these materials and they must be developed, inspected, operated and maintained. Nuclear packagings are integral to the core missions at the Security Site.

“Packaging engineers are individuals with critical skills who are difficult to attract and retain,” Joel Leeman, infrastructure director at the Nevada Nuclear Security Site, said. “Typically, these engineers have many years of experience working in the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration’s Packaging programs. We are proud of Daniel’s accomplishment and look forward to his future contributions to our programs.”

Greiner developed the new accredited graduate-level nuclear packaging program and its curriculum with assistance from Yung Liu of Argonne National Laboratory, and with Jim Shuler, manager of the Packaging Certification Program for the U.S. Department of Energy, which funded the development of the program.

“The program is very important to the DOE from several perspectives,” Shuler said. “With the aging population of subject matter experts in the packaging design, procurement and fabrication area, among many others, new personnel are required to continue the work in these areas as personnel retire or move up their career path.

“Many times the new employee does not meet either the experience or the technical background and must be developed. This can take several years before the new employee has mastered the specific subject area sufficiently so they can be turned loose on their own on a project with confidence. The nuclear packaging program will significantly reduce this time and save the employer money, time and resources in the long run.”

Perlstein recommends other engineering students who work or want to work in the nuclear packaging field go through the program.

“The nuclear packaging program is more applied-knowledge-based than research-based,” he said. “This made it much easier to transfer the knowledge I gained in the classroom to my everyday job at the Nevada Nuclear Security Site. I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know until I began taking these courses.”

The certificate program has a nine-credit curriculum, which includes three required courses of essential material, and six credits of electives for depth and breadth. The combination of classes is offered at the University of Nevada, Reno as well as at the three partners National Laboratories Argonne, Lawrence Livermore and Savannah River.

These classes have been taken by technical staff from nuclear industries, national labs and government agencies from within and outside the United States.

About a dozen students have earned certificate graduate credit in these courses so far, and more are expected to complete the certificate program in the next couple of semesters.

“Most of the students in the program are established employees in the industry or at National Labs, a few are University students,” Greiner said. “There are many students in all of the certificate courses, but they are on other degree trajectories rather than the certificate.”

These certificate courses are also part of the University’s Mechanical Engineering graduate program, and may be accepted by other programs and universities.

“Dr. Greiner has been great to work with,” Shuler said of working to build the program. “And so have his students, some that our labs have hired or had as interns. My personnel at Argonne National Lab and Nevada National Security Site have all been impressed with their skills and abilities.”

Greiner and Shuler said new courses for the certificate program are on the horizon. To learn more about the graduate certificate or to apply, visit the University’s nuclear packaging certificate website.


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