Nuclear power, friend or foe? Engineers’ debate

Nuclear power, friend or foe? Engineers' debate.

The benefits of nuclear power are certainly great, but do they outweigh the risks? The latest news that Japan has elevated its nuclear disaster at the Fukushima plant to Level 7, not seen since the Chernobyl disaster, and pushes this question to the forefront of national debate. This Thursday, April 14, SMU Lyle School of Engineering students will discuss the ethics of engineering at the Hillcrest Foundation Amphitheatre at Caruth Hall from 4 to 5:30 p.m.

“The recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan have shown how quickly natural disasters turn into engineering disasters that ultimately become humanitarian disasters,” says Dean Geoffrey Orsak. “Our engineering students need to engage these tough global issues early in their professional development so that they are well prepared to take on these challenges when they enter the workforce.”

The second in a new series introduced by the Hart Center for Engineering Leadership, these public debates engage the student population in current events while reinforcing big-picture engineering that incorporates business, economics, ethics, and public policy. The first debate in Fall 2010 addressed offshore drilling policy in the wake of the gulf oil disaster.

More than 150,000 displaced persons in Japan live in temporary structures not unlike the one SMU students built and call home this week on the Dallas campus. Part of The Hunt Institute’s Engineering and Humanity Week, makeshift tents and huts in a “Living Village” simulate what it’s like to live, cook, and sleep in temporary shelters, much like those surrounding the Fukushima power plant.

SMU Director of Debate Ben Voth will moderate the debate that brings world news to life for students. Students, faculty, alumni, and friends of SMU are invited to gather from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in the Hillcrest Foundation Amphitheatre at Caruth Hall.

“Debate is an important part of any educational process,” Voth says. “These public debates provide a way for strong ideas to emerge with regard to key global problems engineers face such as with nuclear power.”

SMU students participating in the nuclear power debate include Chris Dawkins, a sophomore from Fort Smith, Arkansas with a triple major in political science, public policy, and economics, and Sean Tabbert, a junior from Austin pursuing a computer science degree.

John Kiser, Associate Dean and Executive Director for the Hart Center for Engineering Leadership, says the public debates groom future engineers for collaborative, multidisciplinary environments in which they will put technical expertise and theory into practice to make a difference in the world.

“These public forums, in conjunction with extensive Hart leadership development programs, give students a voice and the confidence they will need to influence others and speak up for what they believe in,” Kiser adds.

The Hart Center for Engineering Leadership, opened on October 13, 2010, was created to help engineering students think and act strategically about their professional development. The Center was founded on the belief that leadership and professional development of students should be done by design and with purpose. This new vision challenges students to proactively sharpen their leadership skills as they build their deep technical knowledge.

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