Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Schooling in Nuclear Energy; The Welcome Return of Pete Domenici

Pete Domenici Former Senate Leaders Announce GS71GW-CGAEl There has been a very productive collaboration between the nuclear energy industry and community college to create programs to train the next generation of nuclear facility workers. It’s no big secret that the current workforce is, like so many of us, graying, so getting some whipper snappers into place is a logical idea. NEI’s Insight newsletter has written about a bunch of these programs – see here for an example and browse through the archive for a lot more.

But Insight talks about it from an industry perspective. Here’s a story from the Community College Times:

Far too often, we read about college students earning degrees after much hard work and expense and then find a skill-set mismatch with the expectations of the workplace. Affixing blame to this dilemma is a waste of energy (no pun intended), but it is incumbent upon the colleges to work as closely as possible with industry to ensure that their educational programs include critical skills.

The partnership between the Maryland-based Constellation Energy Nuclear Group and the College of Southern Maryland offers an excellent example of how a cooperative venture can be beneficial to a major company, a college, and, most importantly, to students in preparing them for a rewarding career.

Writer Bradley Gottfried highlights the Nuclear Uniform Curriculum Program, an industry initiative that ensures that students learn what will really be useful to them professionally:

NUCP is composed of 38 community colleges across the country that is ensuring that the next generation of nuclear industry workers is being trained in a cohesive manner that addresses the needs of the plants. It is the only recognized energy education program in the U.S.

When a student graduates from an approved program, he or she receives an associate degree from the college and the NUCP issues a transportable certificate that certifies completion of the industry’s required learning objectives. This certificate is what guarantees the graduate’s portability in the industry.

And he points out that students in these programs really are getting into jobs:

In 2010, the first graduates of this program [NUCP] from Chattanooga State Community College in Tennessee and Salem Community College in New Jersey moved into careers with average salaries ranging from $66,000 to $72,000 a year. Since nuclear plants operate for up to 60 years, it’s as close to a lifetime guarantee of employment as possible.

My first job in journalism paid $6000, a salary that was absurd in the 80s but wouldn’t be much improved upon today – liberal arts grads are so easy to exploit - so this path certainly could appeal to a lot of prospective graduates casting about for a rewarding career.

I know this sounds a bit like a sales pitch, and maybe it is – a bit – but NUCP is a strikingly successful program that brings real benefit to both the employer and prospective employee, so maybe it’s a thing one can tout without embarrassment. Just to keep the pitch rolling, NEI has a portion of its web site devoted to education – start here if you have a disengaged high schooler lurking around the house.

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This morning, I attended a briefing at the Bipartisan Policy Center, which has about as direct a name as a think tank can have - no guessing about their priorities, that’s for sure.

I’ll write more about the briefing later – NRC Commissioner Gregory Apostalakis gave a very frank talk about Japan and the NRC’s 90-day review of the Fukushima Daiichi accident that’s worth thinking about at length – but the news about the center itself is worth highlighting:

Former Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), who was Capitol Hill’s leading nuclear power advocate, is heading a new think tank initiative aimed at ensuring nuclear remains a viable option for the United States.

Domenici and Warren “Pete” Miller — who led the Energy Department’s nuclear research programs until late last year — will serve as co-chairmen of the project, which is housed at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

And here’s what they want to do:

“From both a national security and environmental perspective, it is critical that our country maintains global leadership in the next generation of safe nuclear power technology. This will require a robust domestic industry and policy work to ensure this occurs.”

That’s Domenici talking – he and Miller will be working on the policy part, obviously, and it’ll be worth attending to what they and their group produce. Nuclear energy used to be so much a Republicans-only domain that its emergence in the political sphere as a broadly accepted source of energy is one of the more heartening developments of the last several years. This announcement seems to cast that reality in bronze.

Let’s keep an eye on this initiative. Domenici in particular is someone the current Congress takes very seriously on nuclear energy issues – he made it one of his key issues during his 36 years in the Senate - so his work at the Bipartisan Policy Center could be quite consequential.

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What the Japanese decides to do about its nuclear energy industry is something I don’t think can be criticized with much force. After the accident at Fukushima Daiichi, only they can decide the social, economic and environmental value of it. We may be cheered or depressed by their decisions, but there it is. (Germany, however, we reserve the right to endlessly mock.)

That doesn’t mean that closing its facilities wouldn’t have rather severe consequences:

According to an estimate made by the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan, if all domestic nuclear power plants are shut down, the cost of Japan's imports of fuel will increase by 3.473 trillion yen next fiscal year, increasing the monthly average electricity charge by 1,049 yen (about $14) per household and by 36 percent for businesses.

That’s a lot of yen. The article doesn’t say what Japanese households now pay for electricity on average and I’m not sure what the institute is assuming as replacement fuel - i would guess natural gas. Still, the additional economic burden is a lot to ask of a society that did experience the severe traumas of the earthquake and tsunami. But - there it is.

Not the most attractive photo of Pete Domenici, I admit, but it does show him at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

1 comment:

EnergySolutions Foundation said...

Thank you for highlighting the collaboration between the industry and community colleges to prepare students for well-paying and secure careers. The EnergySolutions Foundation is collaborating with many nuclear energy professionals to develop a free online game for middle school students that both teaches science content and helps student explore careers in the nuclear energy industry. This game will create student awareness of careers that many students may not be familiar with. We're excited to join the industry in working to address this workforce shortage. You can learn more about the game at http://corereaction.org.