Archive for the ‘Nuclear’ Category

Nuclear Jobs in Atlanta Poised for Growth

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Atlanta is building its first nuclear plant in years, a project that will add thousands of entry-level and nuclear jobs in Atlanta.

According to an article on Google News by the AP, the Southern Company is building a plant in Atlanta, its first in 30 years.

A new generation of workers are being courted to staff it.

Plans for building a wave of nuclear reactors would create a need for 12,000 to 21,000 new workers ranging from specially trained maintenance crews to nuclear physicists and engineers. The need for labor is compounded since more than a third of the country’s existing nuclear workers will be eligible for retirement in four years.

To cope with the demand, nuclear power firms nationwide are partnering with more than 40 community colleges on a new curriculum designed to train entry level workers and give them a head start when it comes to finding a job.

In Georgia, Augusta Technical College began accepting applications in April from students interested in a two-year course to prepare them for entry-level jobs at the Southern Co.’s expanded Plant Vogtle and elsewhere.

If the Atlanta-based Southern Co. wins federal approval to build the reactors, the company hopes they will be fully operational by 2017 and provide 850 local jobs. Power companies have submitted 17 applications to build and operate nuclear reactors across the country, from Texas and Michigan to Missouri and South Carolina.

“We’re putting together work force development pipelines,” said Andrew Bouldin, who helps coordinate recruiting for Southern Co.’s nuclear subsidiary. “The technical colleges have a good track record of teaching technical education, and it’s a great way to make sure we have technically savvy candidates.”

Nuclear power companies have not faced a large need to hire workers for decades. All the nation’s 104 operating reactors won permission to build by 1978. By the late 1970s, the industry was stalling because a bad economy cut the overall need for electricity and soaring interest rates made nuclear plants expensive to build.

In 1979, a nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania turned public sentiment against the industry. Hiring dwindled as companies shied away from new reactors. Meanwhile, safety improvements required after the accident caused delays in plants where building was under way, further reducing the need for new employees.

Many of the workers who were hired during that period are approaching the end of their careers. A 2009 survey by the Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute showed 38 percent of industry workers will be eligible for retirement by 2014.

“It’s not worrisome, but it’s something we need to plan for,” said Carol Berrigan, the institute’s senior director of industry infrastructure. “We haven’t had the need to bring people in because we were pretty much fully staffed for quite some time.”

One need is for workers who can monitor control systems, perform routine maintenance and check for radiation. Nuclear plants need far more of these technicians than higher-level plant operators, said Bruce Meffert, who launched a training program in 2004 at Linn State Technical College in Missouri.

Utilities once had better success hiring staff from the U.S. Navy, which trains sailors for its nuclear-powered fleet. However, the size of the fleet has shrunk, and the Navy now pays better retention bonuses to keep its skilled workers, Meffert said.

He began the program after an official at power utility AmerenUE told him about the difficulty of finding new radiation protection workers. The firm operates a nuclear power plant in Missouri.

“There just weren’t schools that put out people that met the requirements,” Meffert said.

Given the lack of training programs, officials with the Nuclear Energy Institute worked with Meffert and other educators to create a standard, two-year curriculum that will be offered at more than 40 community colleges nationwide. Besides fulfilling basic state requirements in the liberal arts, students take classes in mathematics, electrical engineering technology and learn about mechanical controllers, nuclear reactors, radiation protection and the utility industry.