by Sara Norman

The Fastest Path to Zero Initiative is collaborating on two projects with $3.7M in funding from the US Department of Energy. 

“To deploy a new technology requires a design that adds value to society, that is affordable, and that is accepted by the public,” said Fastest Path founding director Todd Allen. “These projects will help to lead the nuclear engineering community in to understand and incorporate societal values into nuclear energy products.”

Better engagement with communities

Led by the University of Oklahoma, this project will engage communities where nuclear waste storage facilities may be sited at the design phase, bringing people to the table where decisions are made early on in the project, rather than expecting them to accept or reject a fully decided plan. 

Allen, the project’s U-M lead, will lead expert workshops to create a list of design options that community members and technology developers might draw on to initiate a co-design process. Then, Denia Djokić, an assistant research scientist with expertise in nuclear waste and environmental justice, will co-design and host a Community Design Workshop to develop guidance on how to engage with communities.

The co-design forum, designed based on the practices explored in the workshop, will bring together community members and technical experts to collaboratively develop designs and plans for the nuclear waste site. Aditi Verma, who will become an assistant professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences this fall, will host it. Allen and Shanna Daly, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of research and evaluation at the Center for Socially Engaged Design, will participate in the forum. 

Verma will also help recruit a diverse group of students and young scientists to participate in the project, which is supported by the Integrated Research Projects program.

Environmental justice in siting nuclear plants

The second project, led by the University of Wyoming, applies an environmental justice perspective to engaging with the Wyoming communities near a former coal plant where TerraPower and Pacificorp have proposed building an advanced reactor. Verma will conduct cultural research with the utility’s decision makers and reactor developers to understand how they currently incorporate community concerns into siting processes. This work will leverage her methodological approaches for studying reactor design practices.

Djokić will support Verma’s research and also help coordinate all of the research supporting the project, which is funded by the Nuclear Energy University Partnerships program.

Post Author: Sara Norman