The Philadelphia Inquirer has a report this week that "a job boom is shaking the nuclear industry." In an economy that is headed south by almost every measure, one of the bright spots is nuclear energy.
The newspaper says that industry will have 90,000 openings in the next few years and a starting salary for an undergraduate engineer is $60,000. Technicians can look forward to starting salaries of $43,000 or $21.50/hr. An entry-level nuclear operator can expect $25/hour during training and regular increases once certified. All positions include excellent benefits.
The tremendous shortage of workers is driven by several factors.
- An aging workforce with an average worker 48 years old. One in three will be eligible to retire in four years.
- More than 80 reactors have applied for 20-year license extensions. They expect to be in business for a long time.
- More than two dozen new reactors will have license applications pending by this time next year according to the NRC. These reactors are expected to have a life cycle of up to 60 years.
- Nuclear plant operators are in an "aggressive hiring mode" according to media reports
In North Carolina the News & Observer reports GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy in Wilmington has hired 500 workers in the past three years and could add up to 900 more within five years. Duke Energy in Charlotte is hiring 200 a year. Progress Energy in Raleigh hired 140 last year and plans to add as many this year.
The paper also reports robust internship and hands-on learning opportunities for nuclear engineering students. To compete for talent, Progress Energy and Duke Energy offer paid summer internships to nuclear engineering students and often offer jobs well before the students graduate. Progress Energy's undergraduate interns in nuclear engineering are paid $17 to $23 an hour or as much as $11,000 for 12 weeks of work at a nuclear plant. By the time they graduate, some of the interns have worked three summers, rotating among nuclear plants."This is really our pipeline strategy for our engineers," said Dayna Herrick, Duke Energy's nuclear work-force development manager. "The intern program is really an extended job interview."
You don't have to be an nuclear engineer to get a job in the nuclear industry, though it certainly helps. Other disciplines include mechanical and electrical engineering and even a degree in physics or chemistry is valuable. Navy nuclear experience is especially prized by utilities.
Where to look for jobs?
Want to know more about what it is like to work at a nuclear power plant? Here are some links.
- Department of Labor fact sheet
- Nuclear Regulatory Commission fact sheet
- Nuclear Energy Institute nuclear careers web page
- US News list of top ranked nuclear engineering university programs