On Tuesday, November 15, 2005 at the ANS winter meeting, there was a general session about four aspects of the supporting infrastructure that will need attention in order to successfully reestablish a vibrant nuclear plant construction effort in the United States. As has been repeated in countless articles, it has been more than three decades since the last successful new nuclear plant order.
The four aspects discussed were current nuclear workforce status, educating the future nuclear workforce, physical (industrial) infrastructure, and fuel recycling infrastructure development. Each of the four speaker exuded optimism about the industry’s prospects for future development and outlined a number of opportunities where there is a need for new ideas and expanded participation in the growth prospects.
Human Infrastructure: Current Workforce Status
Maria Korsnick, Vice President, Ginna Nuclear Power Plant talked about her plant’s current demographic make-up, which is decidedly shifted toward more experienced, mature workers. Like many other companies in the industry, her organization, Constellation Generation, has begun diligent work to capture the sometimes undocumented know-how of experienced workers so that it can be shared with others before they leave. Constellation has also implemented mentoring and career development programs specifically designed to identify the future leaders of the organization and to ensure that they gain the necessary experiences and education to take on expanded responsibilities in the future.
Even with the efforts to capture and document knowledge and to develop new leadership, Constellation has also recognized that their existing workforce represents an invaluable asset that should not be allowed to suddenly disappear. One way to enable the retention of this asset is to implement more flexible retirement arrangements that might include temporary reemployment after retirement. Apparently there may be some policies, regulations or laws that might need revision in order to allow greater use of this kind of arrangement – some current rules actually discourage or prevent these arrangements in certain circumstances.
Educating Future Workforce
Dr. Lee Dodds, Nuclear Engineering Department Head, University of Tennessee, spoke about nuclear engineering program status and recent growth. He was energized by the fact that there have been five new programs started up in the last few years and the number of students enrolled has doubled in the past five years. This trend is a complete reversal from the previous two decades of shinkage in both student population and the number of educational programs focusing on nuclear technologies. One real example of the recent nature of this increase in student enrollments in nuclear engineering and health physics programs is the fact that the number of degrees awarded has not yet changed much; most of the growth has occurred too recently for the new students to have graduated.
Dr. Dodds then took the opportunity of having an audience made up of industry leaders to emphasize the fact that this student and program growth is potentially fragile; if the industry does not support the academic programs with research funding, some programs will be at risk. He described in a very straightforward manner the fact that university deans look very closely at the research dollars brought in by faculty and students; if the numbers are too low, the programs get consolidated or eliminated. His point needs to be understood by the nuclear industry leaders, but there are additional aspects that these leaders should consider.
According to the graphs and figures shown by Dr. Dodds, the vast majority of the funding for nuclear research and development in recent years has come directly from the federal government. This is not true for many of the programs like biotechnology, fossil fuel energy technology and information technology that compete directly for the same students and faculty. Those programs traditionally have a significantly greater variety of funding sources including private companies, state and local government grants, and even foundation grants. Dependence on a single source of funding, particularly one that has varying and competing priorities from year to year, is a risky way to build a growing program.
To be continued . . .