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Canada's Nuclear Future

How UNB Is Leading the Way in Nuclear Energy Research and Education

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PHOTO COURTESY OF UNB
Sponsored by:
PHOTO COURTESY OF UNB

Dr. William Cook

Professor, Chair of Chemical Engineering, Director of the CNER, UNB, P. Eng.

Bradley McPherson

Director of Innovation, CNER, UNB, P. Eng.

Dr. Olga Palazhchenko 

Assistant Professor, Chemical Engineering, CNER, UNB, P. Eng.

Dr. Joshua Leon

Dean of Engineering, UNB, P. Eng.


The University of New Brunswick and its Centre for Nuclear Energy Research are delivering world-class education and R&D in nuclear energy.

Over the past decade, the federal and provincial governments have come to see nuclear power, and small modular reactors (SMRs) in particular, as an important part of the solution to lowering greenhouse gas emissions. The Centre for Nuclear Energy Research (CNER) at the University of New Brunswick (UNB) has emerged as a leader in research and training thanks to a concerted effort to build its capacity that began nearly a decade ago.

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In 2014, CNER welcomed a new director, Dr. William Cook, Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering. With that transition, the research and development institute began to blossom, growing from a staff of just one to over 25 associates, support staff, and students. 

Throughout the past 30-plus years, UNB has been actively engaged in the nuclear power industry through our research labs and ties with the nuclear industry here in Canada and abroad.

Dr. William Cook

“Throughout the past 30-plus years, UNB has been actively engaged in the nuclear power industry through our research labs and ties with the nuclear industry here in Canada and abroad,” Cook says. And that level of engagement is now higher than ever.

Full steam ahead with nuclear 

Thanks to the launch of the Pan-Canadian Framework for Small Modular Reactors in 2018 and the Government of New Brunswick investing $10 million into SMRs, UNB relaunched its option program in nuclear.

“Recent interest in SMRs was really the motivating factor to reestablish the formal Nuclear Power Option Program and grow our student base, and student interest was astounding,” says Cook.

Today, nuclear-related education and research initiatives at UNB are thriving. The university offers eight courses in the Nuclear Option with plans to double this number by the end of 2024.

With the advancement of SMRs and a shift globally toward decarbonization, new courses like Advanced Nuclear Systems, Nuclear Safety and Reliability, and Nuclear Chemical Processes are paramount to educating tomorrow’s workforce and decision- and policymakers.

Bradley McPherson

“Traditionally, UNB has offered coursework in areas of introduction to nuclear and corrosion,” says Bradley McPherson, the CNER’s Director of Innovation. “With the advancement of SMRs and a shift globally toward decarbonization, new courses like Advanced Nuclear Systems, Nuclear Safety and Reliability, and Nuclear Chemical Processes are paramount to educating tomorrow’s workforce and decision- and policymakers.”

Exciting new research initiatives 

“We’ve recently begun to grow our nuclear expertise again with the hiring of Dr. Olga Palazhchenko, Assistant Professor in Chemical Engineering and also a part of the CNER,” says Cook.

My latest and most ambitious project investigates the chemistry and materials considerations for long term storage of spent nuclear fuel in a potential deep geological repository.

Dr. Olga Palazhchenko 

Dr. Palazhchenko’s research in nuclear waste storage and computational modelling of nuclear systems has helped to expand the CNER’s capacity. “My work is in the areas of nuclear engineering and materials chemistry, with a focus on simulation development to model radioactivity transport in nuclear power plant systems,” she explains. “In more recent years, my work has expanded from large-scale, water-cooled reactors to R&D activities supporting advanced technologies such as SMRs. My latest and most ambitious project investigates the chemistry and materials considerations for long term storage of spent nuclear fuel in a potential deep geological repository.”

Expanding coursework

In growing its nuclear-related course content and attracting more students, UNB has created a virtuous cycle — students in the Nuclear Power Option Program often go on to post-graduate work at the CNER, which helps attract research and in turn helps attract highly qualified researchers and professors to the university, which then strengthens the Option Program when they teach. It’s a win-win-win.

The burgeoning nuclear industry requires qualified nuclear engineers to support it in its growth. To respond to this need, we’ve been developing a series of new courses that students can enroll in, currently recognized as a program option.

Dr. Joshua Leon

“While New Brunswick has plans to expand from a nuclear operator to a nuclear technology supplier, the province is currently developing two different types of SMR,” says Dr. Joshua Leon, Dean of Engineering at UNB. “The burgeoning nuclear industry requires qualified nuclear engineers to support it in its growth. To respond to this need, we’ve been developing a series of new courses that students can enroll in, currently recognized as a program option.” 


Learn more about UNB and its Nuclear Power Option Program, as well as other upcoming courses and R&D work, at unb.ca.

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