Energize Your Career: Meet Needs in the Nuclear Industry

Opportunities in the Nuclear Industry  |
By Elizabeth McAndrew-Benavides 
| Senior Manager, Workforce Policy and Programs, at the Nuclear Energy Institute  |
Published in the May / June 2013 issue of print 
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The nuclear industry can offer great long-term employment opportunities because the workforce at the nation’s more than 100 operating nuclear power plants is in the midst of a generational change. The plants employ 60,000 people, and many of them began their careers during the initial start-up of the plants more than 30 years ago. As a result, 39 percent of the force will be eligible for retirement between 2011 and 2016. To replace the retirees, the industry is looking to hire about 5,000 workers a year.

In addition, the vendors, suppliers, and manufacturers that support the nuclear power program employ another 60,000 people. Their workforce is in a similar situation, so they are also looking to replace a large number of potential retirees.

INDUSTRY-NAVY AGREEMENT.  A primary source of employees for the civilian nuclear industry has been the United States Navy, and traditionally each company in the industry used its own recruitment processes. However, the companies did not use a systematic approach to determine whether a given individual was planning to leave the service and whether he or she was interested in working in the civilian nuclear industry.

But that all changed in August 2012. That month, the civilian nuclear energy industry and the U.S. Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program signed an agreement of understanding establishing a systematic program that enables separating naval officers to transition seamlessly to civilian employment. Under the agreement, nuclear-trained officers who have decided to leave the service after their commitment ends can opt to have their contact information provided to recruiters at the nearly 30 companies that have signed the agreement.

The agreement benefits the Navy as well. It facilitates Navy recruiters’ access to graduates of the industry’s Nuclear Uniform Curriculum Program (NUCP), a partnership with 37 community colleges to educate the next generation of nuclear technicians, operators, and maintenance personnel. The Navy recruits the graduates for enlisted positions.

“Both of these [parts of the agreement] are right for the Navy and the nation,” said Steve Trautman, the deputy director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, who spoke at the signing ceremony.

In addition, the NUCP can enhance the skill sets of veterans who gained nuclear technology experience in the service, and it can function as a springboard for veterans without that experience who would like to work in the civilian nuclear sector. NUCP is fully qualified for veterans’ benefits.

“Personnel coming out of the Navy can take advantage of the G.I. Bill and enter a NUCP program – and enjoy a long and successful career,” said James Auld, director of external training initiatives at Florida Power and Light Company, Juno Beach. “This agreement is a win for the Navy, the nuclear power industry, and the NUCP schools.”

Indeed, with average salaries ranging from $66,000 to $72,000 a year, these positions pay very well. And because nuclear plants operate for up to 60 years, taking one of the positions is close to a lifetime guarantee of employment.
Industry recruiters received the first set of names of separating officers in October 2012. The industry finds that about 200 nuclear-trained officers leave the service each year, and 61 percent of those who have left so far have opted to participate in this program. The industry is currently conducting a survey to determine how many job offers those officers have received.

In addition, about 1,800 Navy nuclear enlisted personnel separate from the service annually. In the summer of 2013, phase two of the program will take effect, expanding to include enlisted personnel.

NEW EMPLOYEES, NEW PLANTS. The industry has been hiring more than 5,000 people a year for the past three years. About 25 percent of the hires are for engineers and management positions for which Navy officers make great recruits. Another one-third are for operators and maintenance personnel – great fits for former enlisted men and women.

Career opportunities in the nuclear industry go beyond the replacement of retiring workers at existing plants – the industry is continuing to build new plants. Two plants are under construction at Plant Vogtle near Augusta, Georgia; two at the V.C. Summer nuclear station near Columbia, South Carolina; and one at Watts Bar near Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The industry expects the five plants to be operating by the end of this decade.

These are multi-year, multi-billion-dollar construction projects that already employ around 4,000 workers combined. In a year or two, construction will peak at about 7,000 workers. Finally, there will be between 400 and 800  permanent careers at each site – for which Navy personnel are well-suited.

The construction of new plants also acts as an economic multiplier to associated industries. For example, one economic ripple effect from the Plant Vogtle expansion alone is the creation of 35,000 jobs through the manufacture of parts and components for the new reactors from suppliers and contractors.

Scott MacFarland, manager of workforce planning for SCANA Corporation, said that the agreement will help the company fill job openings at the plants scheduled to begin operations at V.C. Summer in 2017 and 2018. The agreement will also help SCANA replace retiring workers at the existing reactor on the site. SCANA, based in Cayce, South Carolina, is the parent company of South Carolina Electric and Gas (SCE&G), which is building the plants.

“People who come to SCANA from the Navy nuclear program fill many important roles working in nuclear power generation,” said MacFarland. “They come to us with a full understanding of the safety culture that is fundamental to the long term success of our industry. They also understand that we are a learning organization that is constantly training to achieve operational excellence and recognize the importance of discipline to getting the job done. As we staff up two new reactors, the Navy is a vital talent pipeline for the fine men and women who will be the leaders of our expanded operations at V. C. Summer and in our industry.”

The industry expects the success of the new plant projects to pave the way for a second wave of nuclear construction in the 2020’s. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has license applications for up to 16 potential new reactors under active review. The industry fully expects many of these plants to be built as the long-term dynamics of rising electricity demand coupled with more stringent environmental requirements and concerns about U.S. energy security remain drivers for nuclear energy expansion.

Bechtel Corporation has been a key player in the nuclear industry’s development for more than a half century. The San Francisco-based company,  whose power business is located in Frederick, Maryland, has designed and/or built more than half of the nuclear power plants in the United States. Bechtel also supports the Navy’s nuclear submarine and carrier fleets.

“We are constantly looking for skilled employees and value the leadership and expertise Navy nuclear trained officers and enlisted personnel bring to our nuclear projects,” said Greg Ashley, president of Bechtel’s nuclear business. “These employees have successfully demonstrated their skills and expertise in a variety of roles including engineering, construction, operations and project management, and we look forward to bringing more people on board to support our clients’ projects in the future.”

In addition, with 71 new nuclear plants under construction overseas, the global market for commercial nuclear technology could approach $750 billion over the next 10 years. Every $1 billion of exports represents 5,000 to 10,000 American jobs.

Schools Offering the Nuclear Uniform Curriculum Program (NUCP)

Estrella Mountain Community College

Miracosta College

Three Rivers Community College

Indian River State College
Miami Dade College

Augusta Technical College
Wallace Community College

ESTEC/Idaho State University

West Kentucky Community & Technical College

College of Southern Maryland

Lake Michigan Community College
Monroe County Community College

Dakota County Technical College
St. Cloud Technical College

Linn State

Metropolitan Community College
Southeast Community College

New Jersey
Salem Community College

New Mexico
New Mexico Junior College

New York
Excelsior College
Onondaga Community College
Westchester Community College

North Carolina
Gaston College

North Dakota
Bismarck State College

Lakeland Community College

Luzerne County Community College

South Carolina
Aiken Technical College
Florence Darlington Technical College
Midlands Technical College
Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College
Spartanburg Technical College

Brazosport College
Texas State Technical College
Wharton County Junior College

Chattanooga State Community College

Columbia Basin College

Lakeshore Technical College


Signatories to the Agreement of Understanding with the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program

Ameren Missouri, St. Louis, Missouri
American Electric Power, Columbus, Ohio
Arizona Public Service Company, Phoenix, Arizona
Bechtel, Frederick, Maryland
BHI Energy, Plymouth, Massachusetts
Constellation Energy Nuclear Group, Baltimore, Maryland
Dominion Nuclear, Richmond, Virginia
DTE Energy, Detroit, Michigan
Duke Energy, Charlotte, North Carolina
Electric Power Research Institute, Palo Alto, California
Entergy, Jackson, Mississippi
Exelon Nuclear, Chicago, Illinois
Luminant, Dallas, Texas
MPR Associates, Alexandria, Virginia
NAC International, Norcross, Georgia
Nebraska Public Power Company, Columbus, Nebraska
NextEra Energy, Juno Beach, Florida
Nuclear Power Operations, Atlanta, Georgia
Omaha Public Power District, Omaha, Nebraska
Pacific Gas and Electric Company, San Francisco, California
PPL Susquehannah, Allentown, Pennsylvania
PSEG Nuclear, Newark, New Jersey
South Carolina Electric and Gas, Columbia, South Carolina
Southern California Edison, Rosemead, California
Southern Nuclear Operating Company, Birmingham, Alabama
STP Nuclear, Wadsworth, Texas
Tennessee Valley Authority, Chattanooga, Tennessee
Westinghouse Electric Company, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Company, Burlington, Kansas
XCel Energy, Minneapolis, Minnesota



About the Author

This article was written by Lisa Dunster