WASHINGTON, D.C.—To help fill the expanding need for qualified workers in the nuclear energy field, the U.S. nuclear energy industry is providing record funding to institutions of higher education and calling on the federal government to reverse “short-sighted” reductions in its funding for related programs.
In 2011, the industry contributed more than $15 million to universities and community colleges to support nuclear engineering programs ($8.6 million) and nuclear energy technician programs ($6.6 million). The industry’s direct support included cash grants, scholarships, fellowships, equipment donations, internships, co-ops and subject-matter expert support.
The industry’s educational investment comes amid a generational transition in the commercial industry’s 60,000-member work force, at a point when nearly 70 percent of the nation’s 104 reactors have received 20-year license extensions from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and construction of five new reactors is under way or imminent in Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina.
“The nuclear energy industry is in the beginning stages of significant work force transition, with 39 percent of its personnel eligible to retire by 2016 and the need to replace up to 25,000 employees,” said Elizabeth McAndrew-Benavides, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s senior manager of work force policy and programs. “We believe the federal government is facing similar challenges.”
“It is important that America’s higher education programs be robust so new people educated in engineering, skilled trades and technical areas are available to move into these positions,” she added.
Even though the federal government’s need for nuclear-energy workers exceeds the private sector’s need, the U.S. Department of Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s fiscal 2013 budget requests eliminate funding for the Integrated University Program that supports nuclear education activities at two- and four-year academic institutions.
“The Department of Energy’s and Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s proposed cut to university program funding is short-sighted,” McAndrew-Benavides said. “The federal government needs to fill positions at national laboratories and government agencies, manage the U.S. Navy’s nuclear propulsion program, and draw upon the expertise of government contractors. It is imperative that the federal government and the nuclear energy industry continue to fund education programs. A lack of nuclear science and technology graduates means many of the government agencies and research facilities may not have the work force available to them to meet their missions.”
The Integrated University Program helps fund more than 30 nuclear engineering programs and 38 community colleges to ensure there are engineers, operators, technicians and skilled maintenance personnel available for nuclear technologies facilities across the country. See http://www.nei.org/careersandeducation/educationandresources/education/.
“The Integrated University Program was authorized by Congress through 2019 and needs stable funding so the nuclear education infrastructure isn’t undermined,” McAndrew-Benavides said. “Our nation is going to continue to rely on nuclear energy. It is vital that the appropriate government agencies invest robustly in our future and provide leadership in this important energy technology internationally.”