The University of New South Wales (UNSW) will be reintroducing nuclear engineering graduate degrees to Australia next year as the controversial energy source begins to garner more favorable attention abroad as a cleaner alternative to conventional fossil fuels.

UNSW announced the introduction of the graduate program last week at the Nuclear Energy Conference 2013, hosted by the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum.

The program will once again be the only nuclear engineering degree in the country. Its reintroduction comes three decades after its cancellation amidst widespread popular antipathy to nuclear power.

Professor Graham Davies, dean of the Faculty of Engineering at UNSW, said the introduction of a nuclear engineering graduate program was a key addition to the university’s engineering education range.

“By establishing a nuclear engineering program and research group, we are adding a crucial element to our energy portfolio,” hes said.

Davies also noted that the increasing adoption of nuclear energy by other countries would provide ample opportunities abroad to Australian engineers specializing in the area.

“Irrespective of whether nuclear power is ever added to Australia’s energy mix, there is a growing need for highly skilled engineers to maintain and operate existing and planned nuclear facilities around the world,” he said. “This graduate program will prepare our students for international employment opportunities in the energy sector, as well as open pathways into a variety of nuclear careers in Australia that are not energy related.”

Australia’s only nuclear engineering graduate program will initially provide one and two-year masters degrees, as well as a scholarship scheme, elective courses for undergraduate students, and PhD research funding.

“We’re quite keen for (undergraduate) students to have a background in nuclear engineering, so they can get involved in the nuclear debate,” Davies said.

The program will also enjoy a research partnership with Imperial College in London and enjoys the funding support of the Australia Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and the Sir William Tyree Foundation.

UNSW previously ran courses in nuclear energy over a period of almost three decades, from 1954 to 1986 but was forced to abandon due to a lack of policy support.

The outlook for nuclear energy appears far more favourable today, however, due to the development of new technology which makes it safer and cleaner, as well as clean expressions of interest in its uptake amongst major developing economies such as China and India.

The state governments of Queensland and New South Wales have both recently flagged their intentions to permit the resumption of uranium mining, while during an official visit to India last year former Prime Minister Julia Gillard indicated that Australia would be willing to export uranium to the country despite it not being a signatory to key nuclear protocols.