March 7, 2011 | News
We are at a critical point in the history of nuclear energy. The United States is building its first new reactors in decades, but we may lack the human capital to keep even the current fleet running. How can we develop the workforce we need to meet an increasing demand for nuclear energy?
Last month, the American Nuclear Society held its biennial Conference on Nuclear Training and Education (CONTE) in Jacksonville, FL to answer precisely this question. Three hundred operations training and education experts from industry and academia attended; they came from all over the country and world. The conference addressed one of the major weaknesses in the industry—a lack of nuclear engineers to staff plants in the future. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the number of nuclear engineers dropped precipitously, resulting in a crisis for the industry pipeline. The nuclear Navy had long been a steady source of personnel, but over time the number of graduates prepared to work in the nuclear industry decreased.
In her remarks, Angie Howard, vice president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, provided this challenge: “The average age of employees in the industry is 48 years—one of the oldest of any major industries in the country. Retirement and attrition will create the need to essentially re-staff the existing fleet over the next 10 years.”
The CUNY Energy Institute is participating in a resurgence of nuclear engineering programs around the country. Starting about ten years ago, universities and community colleges began working with industry and the US government to reverse these employment trends. Both the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have been issuing grants and fellowships to support the teaching of nuclear engineering and technology. The American Nuclear Society has been a leader in this effort—supporting an extensive national effort, the Nuclear Uniform Curriculum Program (NUCP).
Pairing schools with industry partners (and sometimes hiring retired plant operators to be professors), the NUCP allows students enrolled in their programs to take classes that will count toward their ACAD and NRC accreditation. Once hired, these students can be fast-tracked through some of their initial training and get working sooner. Thus, these programs are beneficial to the students and the schools that provide them, as well as to the industry—a win, win, win situation. The CUNY Energy Institute is proud to be working with the US government and industry to teach a new generation of nuclear engineers.