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James Carnal standing in an old nuclear machine

Study Abroad Student Report: James Carnal

During the 2024 Summer mini-term, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Prague, Czech Republic. Through a faculty led program, I took a nuclear reactor laboratory class at the Czech Technical University’s research reactor. The experience was broken into two parts: cultural and technical excursions in the first week and labs at the reactor the second week. The first week of the study abroad also included a trip to Vienna, Austria to tour the UN and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Both of these weeks provided great learning and growth experiences.

The technical side of the first week included tours of Temelin nuclear power plant, Skoda Nuclear Machinery, Rez Research Center, and the IAEA. These tours allowed us to see many sides of nuclear applications from power generation to nuclear safeguards. The highlights of these tours included a hands-on IAEA nuclear seals demonstration and the Skoda tour where we saw the lining of a reactor pressure vessel (RPV) being machined and got to stand inside an unused RPV, itself! The culture side included many sites in and around Prague including Prague Castle, the Astronomical Clock, the Church of Our Lady before Tyn, Charles Bridge, the brewery of Budweiser Budvar. While in Vienna, we also visited St. Stephen’s Cathedral and Schonbrunn Palace. These sites were filled with impressive architecture and long histories. It was amazing to be surrounded by landmarks that are older than the United States.

The second week focused entirely on the class where we had three-hour labs twice a day. It was a rewarding experience to do experiments with a real reactor and not just working through the theory with no hands-on context. I found that many of the concepts covered in my past classes really “clicked” for me when I got to see them happening in real time. The course ended with an individual session where each of us manually operated the reactor and SCRAM’ed the reactor as a group. I think this was a wonderful program that has deepened my understanding of practical nuclear engineering and provided me with an unforgettable culture experience. Thanks to this program, I can now say that I have looked directly into an operating nuclear reactor!

Overlook of Prague, Czech Republic
James Carnal working on a project for his summer mini session class on a computer
old building in Prague, Czech Republic