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Zeanah Engineering Complex at the University of Tennessee

UT Launches Partnership with Kairos Power

Since establishing the nation’s first nuclear engineering department in 1957, UT has always pushed the boundaries of nuclear science, research, and discovery. The Department of Nuclear Engineering (NE) has trained thousands of skilled nuclear engineers who go on to work in the fields of medicine, aerospace, and—most visibly—energy production at nuclear plants.

Now, the NE department is embarking on a new mission: to train reactor operators in the advanced nuclear industry.

Working with Kairos Power

With NE Department Head Wes Hines and Associate Professor Jamie Coble in the lead, UT recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Kairos Power, a nuclear technology, engineering, and manufacturing company developing a modular, fluoride salt-cooled high-temperature reactor design known as KP-FHR. The company will soon begin construction on a low-power demonstration reactor, known as Hermes, in Oak Ridge, TN.

The MOU lays the groundwork for a simulator-based nuclear operator training facility to be located on UT’s Knoxville campus—an ongoing collaboration that will enhance the department’s programming and meet Kairos Power’s need for a state-of-the-art training facility in which to qualify plant operators.

“The nuclear industry is going through a period of incredible growth,” said Anthonie Cilliers, Kairos Power’s director of instrumentation, controls, and electrical. “This creates a need for technical professionals from various disciplines who must be equipped with the right skills to perform their specialties within the nuclear industry framework.”

To give its reactor operators those skills, Kairos Power has developed proprietary codes that model the dynamics of a KP-FHR. These codes are coupled with the company’s hardware test systems to provide a rich learning experience using simulated and actual system data.

The company will also provide a generic version of the code for UT undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty to use for academic training and research.

Providing Education and Training

In addition to giving Kairos Power’s Oak Ridge-based employees the specific reactor training they need, the NE department will provide courses that give employees who are new to the industry a strong foundation in nuclear fundamentals.

“This partnership will make efficient use of our resources,” said Hines. “We will be taking facilities that our university already uses for college courses and opening them up for training that supports the growing advanced nuclear workforce in East Tennessee.”

Meanwhile, NE students will benefit from industry-relevant education and a broader understanding of the types of fission reactors currently being built across the world.

“This is a unique opportunity for our students to simulate and observe plant response in a non-light water reactor,” said Coble. “It will give them an important systems-level view of reactor operations.”

“The facility is intended to bring together the nuclear industry and nuclear academia in a way that ensures continual relevance of the training programs to best serve the industry’s needs,” Cilliers said. “We are excited to partner with the university in this effort, which will advance Kairos Power’s mission to improve people’s quality of life while protecting the environment.”

The collaborators are hopeful that the simulator will inspire similar partnerships throughout the US, strengthening the nuclear workforce poised to play a key role in the national transition to clean energy.

“We want this to be a great example of how industry members and universities can work together to bring clean nuclear energy to the country—while bringing value to both organizations,” Hines said.


Izzie Gall (865-974-7203,