Dr. Robert Cowan

Coolant Chemistry and Corrosion


Dr. Robert Cowan, retired Chief Technologist of General Electric’s Nuclear Energy Division, with over 40 years of Boiling Water Reactor chemistry, corrosion, structural material and fuel material experience. He holds a Ph.D. in Metallurgical Engineering from The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.

At GE he headed the development activities which qualified and commercialized various new technologies for boiling water reactor (BWR) application including: IGSCC resistant grades of stainless steel, hydrogen water chemistry, zinc injection (utilizing both natural and isotopically depleted zinc), noble metal technology and in-reactor ECP monitoring.

  • Over 70 Technical Publications
  • 20 Issued U.S. Patents
  • Consultant to both US and European BWR utilities as well as EPRI
  • Contributed heavily to the development and subsequent revisions of the EPRI BWR Water Chemistry Guidelines and NMCA Application Guidelines

How did you get started as an engineer?

I attended Lehigh University for two years as an undergraduate and then transferred to The Ohio State University where I received a B.S., M.S. and Ph.D., all in metallurgical engineering. My graduate work was in corrosion and high temperature electrochemistry.

Your career history?

I joined the General Electric Company directly from University in 1969, assigned to the Vallecitos Nuclear Center. Initially I did research in measuring ECP in operating BWRs to better understand the intergranular stress corrosion cracking phenomenon. I then worked on Zircaloy corrosion issues for several years and then worked on the development of IGSCC resistant alloys for five years. I became the head of the Water Chemistry groups in the early 1980s. I helped lead the development of hydrogen water chemistry, zinc injection and noble metal applications before retiring from General Electric in 2000.

During that period I worked closely with EPRI and was very active in developing the first edition of the BWR Water Chemistry Guidelines and every subsequent edition. I’ve authored or co-authored over 70 papers and hold 20 patents. Since “retiring”, I have consulted extensively.

How did you get introduced to ANT International and the LCC Programme?

My good friend Chris Wood, of EPRI, told me about ANT International and asked me to consider taking over his efforts on BWR chemistry issues while he underwent cancer treatments.

How has the field of water chemistry issues changed during your career?

I have seen the field of BWR water chemistry change from one in which the plants monitored the chemistry with a goal of keeping the reactor water conductivity at less than 1 uS/ cm. Now the fleet average conductivity is near 0.1 uS/cm. Because our fundamental understanding has improved so much, the chemistry is now managed to optimize ECP (to mitigate IGSCC), to minimize shutdown dose rates and minimize harmful… to name a few of the important water chemistry goals.

What do you foresee for the future in the nuclear industry and how does the LCC Programme fit in?

I think the LCC Programme is an ideal way for senior people like me to pass on our perspective, experience and knowledge to the newer generations of nuclear professionals.

How do you spend your leisure time?

I have four main pastimes: aviation, grandchildren, golf and travel. After I retired, I constructed a homebuilt airplane (it took about 7 years of effort). She is a wonder to fly and has a top speed of over 300 km/hr. She still gets a lot of my attention and I fly her on a 5,000 kilometer round trip every summer to an international fly-in in the state of Wisconsin. I have six grandsons (ages 1–8) and plan to introduce them all to flying and golf! My wife Karen and I love ’adventure’ travel. We’ve been to all eight continents (Antarctica was really spectacular) and Tahiti is our next stop!