Fact Sheets

Nuclear Industry's Comprehensive Approach Develops Skilled Work Force for the Future

This fact sheet describes the comprehensive program the nuclear energy industry has undertaken to recruit, train and educate new workers. It notes that the industry expects a significant number of experienced workers to retire over the next five years.

September 2010

Key Facts

  • The U.S. nuclear energy industry will need thousands of workers for the future to replace retirees and to build and operate new nuclear plants.
  • To develop the next-generation work force, the U.S. nuclear industry is working with community colleges to recruit and train students in a standardized way for employment at nuclear utilities.
  • The nuclear industry is partnering with educational organizations to attract young adults to the industry and prepare them for higher-level training in the nuclear energy field.
  • The federal government also will need nuclear workers in the future in its laboratories, the military and government programs.
  • The U.S. government’s grants and scholarships for nuclear energy education programs at universities and community colleges are crucial to developing a skilled nuclear work force for the future.
  • The nuclear industry’s partnerships with the federal government, nongovernmental agencies, and colleges and universities are attracting a growing number of students to the nuclear energy field.

Need for New Nuclear Industry Workers
The U.S. electric power industry employs more than 400,000 people to generate, transmit and distribute the nation’s electricity. [1]  As of 2008, more than half of all workers in the industry were over the age of 45 and were eligible to retire within the next decade. This means that up to 120,000 to 160,000 workers will be needed by 2013 and as many as 200,000 workers will be needed by 2018 to fill the gap in the electricity sector. [2]

The U.S. commercial nuclear industry comprises workers at electric power companies, power plant design firms and suppliers. In 2009, the nuclear industry employed approximately 120,000 people.

Nearly 38 percent of the nuclear industry work force will be eligible to retire within the next five years. To maintain the current work force, the industry will need to hire approximately 25,000 more workers by 2015. [3]

New Nuclear Plants Create Job Opportunities
To meet the nation’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, some 17 companies and consortia are considering building more than 30 new nuclear plants. The industry would need thousands of workers to build and operate these new plants.

Each new nuclear plant represents an average of 1,400 to 1,800 jobs during construction, with as many as 2,400 during peak construction. Approximately 400 to 700 permanent jobs will be needed once the nuclear plant is operational.

These jobs include skilled trades, such as welders, pipe fitters, masons, carpenters, millwrights, sheet metal workers, electricians and heavy equipment operators. Nuclear plants also require reactor operators, radiation protection specialists, and nuclear, mechanical and electrical engineers.

Nuclear plants pay their workers approximately 36 percent more than average salaries in the local area. For example, the median salary for an electrical technician at a nuclear plant is $67,571; for a mechanical technician, $66,581; and for a reactor operator, $77,782.

Industry Develops Nuclear Uniform Curriculum Program at Community Colleges
In the early 2000s, only a handful of U.S. community colleges offered career programs to train nuclear industry workers. To help community colleges offer more training programs, the U.S. nuclear industry launched the Nuclear Uniform Curriculum Program (NUCP) in 2007.

The NUCP is a standardized certificate program for educating operators and technicians for jobs at nuclear plants. The program provides students with an accelerated pathway into the U.S. nuclear industry by preparing them to work at local utilities or to transfer to other NUCP-participating utilities.

More than 40 community colleges have partnered with the nuclear industry to implement the program. The partnerships ensure that community colleges are provided with the tools they need to educate future nuclear workers and that the nuclear industry is supplied with capable, highly trained workers for the future. 

Students meeting the program’s requirements will receive industry-recognized certificates upon graduation, making them eligible to apply for positions at their local nuclear utilities.

For more information on the NUCP program, see the Nuclear Energy Institute’s website: http://www.nei.org/careersandeducation/nuclear-uniform-curriculum-program

Nuclear Industry Encourages Young People to Pursue Energy Careers
Nuclear companies and NEI have joined the Center for Energy Workforce Development (CEWD) to help attract young people into the energy field. By targeting students at the high school and college levels, the industry can ensure a steady, highly trained work force for the future.

Once launched, the CEWD’s “Get Into Energy Career Pathways” program will set students on a path to future energy careers by equipping them with the skills they need to be successful in the energy field.

The program will prepare students for more specialized training, through programs such as the NUCP.

The program is being piloted in eight states.

More information on the program can be found on the CEWD’s website at www.cewd.org.

Federal, Industry Initiatives Promote Nuclear Energy Careers
The U.S. government also will need thousands of nuclear workers in the future to work at the national laboratories, in the military and in government programs.

To ensure a steady supply of nuclear workers, the federal government provides scholarships and grants annually to facilitate developing career programs at colleges and universities and to encourage students to continue their education in the nuclear energy field.

These scholarships and grants help community colleges and universities develop and implement the curriculum they need to educate the next-generation nuclear work force. They also allow students to conduct research at federal laboratories, colleges and other research institutions to develop advanced technologies that will make the nuclear industry more efficient in the future.

Consistent federal funding is crucial for colleges and universities to leverage the resources that the nuclear industry provides to build a future skilled work force.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration are the principal federal agencies that support nuclear energy work force training programs in colleges and universities. However, other federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Labor and the National Science Foundation, also have provided grants to colleges for their nuclear energy work force programs.

The nuclear industry provides internships and scholarships to students, and equipment, tools and technical experts to educational institutions to facilitate growth in the nuclear energy field.

Community colleges and universities can leverage the support from both federal agencies and the U.S. nuclear industry for their education programs.

Assessments Show Progress in Nuclear Energy Careers
To expand the future work force, the nuclear industry continues to forge new partnerships to address challenges aimed at improving career awareness and outreach; recruitment, training and preparation; and reten-tion of employees and their knowledge.

The industry works to maintain broad support from local communities, labor organizations and educational institutions.

The nuclear industry’s partnerships with the federal government, nongovernmental agencies, and community colleges and universities are attracting a growing number of students to join the nuclear energy field.

Enrollments in undergraduate nuclear engineering programs have increased from 470 in the 1998-1999 academic year to more than 1,300 at the end of 2008. Graduate enrollments have climbed from 220 to more than 1,225 in the same time period. [4]

Additional information on the industry’s work force development efforts is available at www.nei.org/careersandeducation.

[1] This data is based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Career Guide to Industries, 2010-11 Edition, which is available online at http://www.bls.gov/oco/cg/cgs018.htm. The data includes all forms of electric power generation, transmission and distribution, natural gas distribution, water, sewage, and other systems.
[2] This data is based on the National Commission on Energy Policy’s Task Force on America’s Future Energy Jobs report, which is available online at http://www.bipartisanpolicy.org/library/report/task-force-americas-future-energy-jobs .
[3] This data is based on NEI’s 2010 Work Force Report.
[4] This is the most recent data available. It is based on the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education’s report Nuclear Engineering Enrollments and Degrees Survey, 2009 Data, which is available online at http://orise.orau.gov/media-center/news-releases/2010/fy10-35-nuclear-engineering-degrees-report.aspx.