Efforts to build the next generation of nuclear power plants in USA seem to fall one step back for every two steps forward. Problems with financing, competition from low natural gas prices, and lower electricity demand forecasts have slowed or halted plans by many American utilities to build new nuclear power plants. On the surface these developments might seem to lessen the need for a robust pipeline of new nuclear engineers, technicians, and scientists, but that is far from true. Globalization of the nuclear supply chain and the steady growth of nuclear energy in Asia, Europe and Africa are creating demand for nuclear talent around the world. As I write this letter, there are 58 reactors under construction in the world, several more about to begin construction (including 4 in the USA), and contracts for additional new reactors are being signed each month. Many of these new reactors are located in nations and regions without an existing nuclear workforce or nuclear education and training infrastructures.
The international nuclear expansion is creating new career opportunities for experienced “nukes” and a worldwide marketplace for nuclear talent. Coupled with the pending retirement of 15-30% of the workforce over the next five or so years, this global demand means young people entering the nuclear industry today have opportunities many of us never dreamed of. It also means existing nuclear education and training programs will need to operate at peak efficiency to feed this national and global hunger for nuclear brainpower.
There’s a lot going on to meet these workforce challenges including rising enrollments in nuclear engineering programs, roll-out of the “Nuclear Uniform Curriculum” at community colleges around the USA, and the formation of energy workforce consortia in 23 states. These initiatives to grow the new nuclear workforce, many of which are already graduating students, are the results of years of hard work by leaders from the nuclear industry, the academic community, and government agencies. While much has been done to prime the pump, even more hard work (and funding) will be required to ramp up capacity to keep the pipeline full!
Initiatives like these will discussed in detail at the ANS Winter Meeting being held November 7-11, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Sessions being hosted by the Education, Training & Workforce Development Division include:
● Training, Human Performance, and Workforce Development
● The Innovations in Fuel Cycle Research Awards Program
● Technology Platforms Used in Distance Learning
● Focus on Communications: Pro-Nuclear Advocacy
● Focus on Communications: Credibility in a Digital Age
● Workforce Development Grants: Requirements, Challenges, and Results
● Cutting-Edge Techniques in Education and Training
I hope you will join me there!
Chair, Executive Committee
Education, Training and Workforce Development Division
American Nuclear Society