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Staff profile: Bob Agasie

UW-Madison Nuclear Reactor Director Bob Agasie with Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials

Reactor Director Bob Agasie (right) talks about the reactor during Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials' recent visit. (26K JPG)

"Reactors are fun," declares Bob Agasie.

And if you asked him, he'd say that research reactors might be even more fun than those at companies such as Commonwealth Edison (Agasie's first employer), for which their sole purpose is to generate power. "They're fun to operate, and it's fun when you watch students making connections and saying, 'Oh, that's why that works,'" he says.

Recently Agasie succeeded Dick Cashwell as reactor director when Cashwell retired from the university after nearly four decades. " Bob's a good person for the job," says Cashwell. "He learned reactor operations at the best place to learn: right here, as a student."

Although he became the reactor's director in August, Agasie reported for work here in December 1999 and began a daunting 18 months in which he tried to absorb as much of Cashwell's 39 years of reactor experience as he could. "I believe in mentoring, and I made him do more and more of the work," chuckles Cashwell. "In fact, if I'd known it was this much fun, I'd have done it years ago."

When he attended school here, Agasie was one of only a few UW-Madison undergraduate students ever licensed as a senior reactor operator, says Cashwell. After he earned his master's degree from the department in 1997, Agasie worked as a reactor engineer for Commonwealth Edison's Quad Cities station.

But he missed the academic environment, so a year and a half later, he landed a management position at the University of Missouri-Columbia's 10 megawatt reactor — the country's largest university research reactor. Although taking the job satisfied his desire to work with such a reactor, Agasie hoped for more interaction with students. When the UW-Madison opportunity came up, he snatched it and he's been on cloud nine ever since.

He's already taught NEEP 234, Principles and Practice of Nuclear Reactor Operations, and will teach NEEP 428, a capstone-style nuclear reactor laboratory class that every nuclear engineering bachelor's student must take. "Teaching, especially 234, is fun," says Agasie. "It's a fun class to teach because it isn't just books — it's an awful lot of hands-on, getting involved, doing that kind of work. And you can really see a lot of students pick up on that."

In addition, the students learn how to operate a reactor in a regulated environment — something Agasie considers important. "I think a lot of other students over the years graduated and hadn't been involved in that kind of situation. They get into the power industry and say, 'Boy, I've got all these procedures to follow and I've got to fill out all this paperwork,' and it kind of discourages them," he says. "It's the way the industry runs, and that's how the industry maintains safety."

As reactor director, Agasie plans to start a program that helps licensed student reactor operators take an active role in their requalification processes by encouraging them to develop 20- to 30-minute lectures. "The most sure-fire way to make sure you understand something is to teach it," he explains.

He also hopes nationwide renewed interest in nuclear energy and the upcoming Mechanical Engineering Building renovation will provide new possibilities for the reactor. "I think that ties in to allowing us to improve our services, making us even more of a figure than we are right now," says Agasie. Foremost, however, his goal as director is to maintain or exceed the high level of quality that Cashwell established for the reactor program. (The Nuclear Regulatory Commission encourages other facilities to model their reactor procedures after UW-Madison's.)

Although that's a lot of notoriety for a reactor, like his predecessor, the low-key Agasie believes that no news is really the best news.


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Date last modified: Friday, 09-Nov-2001 09:37:00 CST
Date created: 07-Nov-2001 10:49:00