In this section, Professor Short describes why his field of study interests him and what he hopes his research will accomplish.
OCW: What is it about ionizing radiation that really lights you up?
PROFESSOR SHORT: Well, it literally does light you up if you go with Cherenkov radiation! But the reason I like it is because it’s the transfer of pure energy. And it’s the one time you can turn matter into energy and vice versa. It’s something we all experience but not everybody understands. It’s captivating because people fear what they can’t see, but it’s also captivating because it has immense creative and useful power.
OCW: Your research focuses on fuel rod fouling. What is that, and what are you hoping to learn about it?
PROFESSOR SHORT: Fuel rod fouling is what happens when corrosion deposits, technically called “crud,” plate out on the fuel rods in a reactor. These deposits can impede heat transfer, they can harbor more aggressive chemicals, and they sometimes cause fuel failure, which means the radioactive stuff leaks out where you don’t want it to. I’m trying to figure out how to stop it. I started off trying to simulate its effects and where it’s going to be in the nuclear plant, and I got bored by that because I thought I could put my effort into understanding it in one way—where it’s going to be—or I could understand it in a different way: why it’s there. And if you understand why it’s there, you can figure out how to stop it.
OCW: Why should laypeople care about this?
PROFESSOR SHORT: Well, it costs most reactors millions of dollars a year. So it’s one of the many factors that are making nuclear power a little less competitive than power from other sources like natural gas. And the reason I’m in nuclear is because I’m an environmentalist. We need to find a way to get off of gas and coal. But at the same time, we can’t over-subsidize nuclear power. It’s got to be economically competitive. And by solving these materials issues, like crud, we can make it more competitive for us to make use of zero carbon energy.