USC center will focus on enhancing the use of nuclear energy 


A new SmartState Center of Economic Excellence will be established at the University of South Carolina to develop strategies for improving and enhancing the use of nuclear energy.

San Diego-based General Atomics will give $900,000 to establish the General Atomics Center for Development of Transformational Nuclear Technologies, university officials announced Tuesday (Oct. 11). South Carolina will match the gift with $3 million to start the center in USC's College of Engineering and Computing.

USC President Harris Pastides said the center will expand the scope of USC's energy research program and have a significant impact on the power industry.

"This is a pivotal time in the power industry," Pastides said. "Demand for safe, reliable and affordable electricity is increasing. At the same time events in Japan have raised the topic of nuclear power and safety. Researchers at this center will work to ensure that nuclear power remains safe, clean and affordable and, in the course of their work, help train a new generation of nuclear engineers for this growing industry." For General Atomics, the chance to partner with USC and the state of South Carolina offers the opportunity to pursue the new ideas and transformational technologies necessary to move the nuclear energy industry forward.

"We look to universities like the University of South Carolina for the creativity and imagination to come up with new ideas that can solve important problems facing the nation and our world," said Dr. John A. Parmentola, General Atomics senior vice president. "We see a natural partnership through our common culture with the University of South Carolina. And we find the state of South Carolina is a forward-looking state in regard to nuclear energy."

Parmentola said nuclear energy has served the country well for the past 50 years, but the industry needs new ideas that will assure it remains safe and economically competitive in the years to come. "In order to be able to move forward, we need new ideas - transformational ideas -- to exploit an incredibly important resource not just for our nation but for the world," Parmentola said.

A national search for a recognized expert in transformational nuclear technologies and concepts to hold the endowed chair is expected to get under way immediately, said Dr. Tony Ambler, dean of USC's College of Engineering and Computing.

Ambler said researchers will concentrate on protecting the country's national security and improving energy independence. Specific areas include technologies tied to recycling of used fuel, better resource utilization and waste reduction, as well as technologies for faster and less expensive construction of nuclear plants. The center also will investigate ways to prevent proliferation of nuclear materials so they won't be used in nuclear weapons or in other ways that jeopardize the security and safety. The center also will help train new engineers and scientists to replace an aging workforce and meet growing demand for scientists, he said. "The center will promote development of technologies that will have an enormous impact on the economy in the long term. High-temperature fast reactors will one day provide an abundant carbon-free source of energy that can be used to replace fossil fuels in transportation and go towards saving the economy $400 billion per year in oil imports," Ambler said. 

About SmartState 
The South Carolina SmartState Program was established by the S.C General Assembly in 2002, funded through South Carolina Education Lottery proceeds. The legislation authorizes the state's three public research institutions, the University of South Carolina, Clemson University and the Medical University of South Carolina, to use state funds to create Centers of Economic Excellence in research areas that will advance South Carolina's economy.

The program also supports SmartState endowed chairs, world-renowned scientists who lead the centers. By investing in talent and technology, the SmartState Program is designed to fuel the state's knowledge-based economy, resulting in high-paying jobs and an improved standard of living in South Carolina.

About General Atomics 
General Atomics is a San Diego-based innovation firm with a 55-year history of providing successful solutions to environmental, energy, and defense challenges. GA, the location of the nation's largest magnetic confinement experiment, the DIII-D National Fusion Facility, has been performing fusion energy research for over 50 years for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, and is a supplier of several state-of-the-art technologies used in the world's fusion programs. GA also makes the fusion targets for the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the world's largest inertial fusion experiment. In October 2012, GA will host in San Diego the International Atomic Energy Agency's Fusion Energy Conference, the main international biennial fusion conference. For more information, visit