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Nuclear plants looking for new hires

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Associated Press / September 14, 2008
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The man in charge of the country's nuclear regulatory agency says the United States needs a generation of new scientists, engineers, and skilled workers to staff, build, and monitor what could be dozens of new power plants.

The country is on the verge of a building boom for nuclear plants, but after almost three decades of inactivity, it's just starting to train the workers it will need, according to Dale Klein, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Power companies have submitted applications to the NRC for 20 new reactors, and Klein expects about 10 more by the end of 2009.

A combination of ever-increasing demand for power, concerns about global warming, and the costs of fossil fuels is driving much of the increase.

Those plans are meeting head on with an aging workforce, creating the need for thousands of new nuclear industry workers.

The Nuclear Energy Institute last year estimated the industry could lose almost 20,000 workers, 35 percent of its workforce, to retirement by the end of 2012. More than 6,000 more workers are expected to be lost to attrition.

The institute isn't sure how many more workers will be needed to staff new plants because there's no way to know how many of those 30 applications to build reactors will lead to construction.

Companies that build the plants and their components also will need to hire new workers. Colleges will need more professors, and the NRC itself will need more people to consider applications and monitor plants.

"The pipeline is not what it should be. The number of nuclear engineering programs has declined," NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said.

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