WASHINGTON—Prospects for construction of more than 30 new nuclear power plants over the next 15 to 20 years present enormous career opportunities for skilled workers in the United States, the Nuclear Energy Institute today told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
“The resurgence of nuclear energy will lead to increasing demand for skilled labor at all levels,” testified Carol Berrigan, NEI’s director of industry infrastructure. “Each new reactor will require between 1,400 and 1,800 workers for construction with peak employment of up to 2,300 workers. Once built, these 31 potential power plants would require 12,400 and 21,700 permanent, full-time workers to operate the plants and additional supplemental labor for maintenance and outages.”
Skilled tradesmen in welding, pipefitting, masonry, carpentry, sheet metal and heavy equipment operations — among others — all stand to profit from America’s need to meet growing electricity demands with an expanded portfolio of clean-air energy sources.
“If the industry were to construct the 31 reactors that are currently being discussed for license applications, this would require 43,400 to 55,800 workers during construction with peak employment of up to 71,300,” Berrigan said.
Across the energy sector, there is growing demand for skilled technical workers. The nuclear industry, like the rest of American industry, faces increased competition for skilled talent. Salaries in the skilled fields commonly range from $65,000-$85,000 annually, Berrigan noted, and salaries for nuclear engineers are among the highest for all engineering disciplines, according to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Still, recruitment into skilled crafts remains a significant challenge for the nuclear industry. In today’s era, many high school students are directed almost exclusively toward four-year degree programs. The nuclear industry is also challenged by an aging work force, with nearly 50 percent of workers age 47 or older.
“Improving awareness of skilled craft jobs in the energy sector and changing misperceptions about them will undoubtedly lead to more students electing to enter skilled craft careers and enjoy long-term, high-wage employment,” Berrigan said.
Increasing public recognition of the value of nuclear energy as a clean, reliable electricity source is leading more young people to identify nuclear energy as a career path, she noted. A recent Department of Energy study found that enrollments in undergraduate nuclear energy programs have grown to more than 1,900 in the 2006-07 academic year, compared to fewer than 500 eight years ago. Graduate enrollments also have jumped to more than 1,100 in the 2006-07 year versus just 220 in 1998-99.