Atomic opportunities

The nuclear industry is putting out the Help Wanted sign.


The Augusta-Aiken area has job needs on two fronts: new missions at Savannah River Site, such as the MOX fuel facility, and the new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle moving through the regulatory system.

Nationally, colleges are ramping up their efforts to train the next generation of workers in the nuclear industry. And it isn't all tied to the coming so-called nuclear renaissance.

The industry has about 100,000 workers, said Mitch Singer, a spokesman for the trade group Nuclear Energy Institute. "About 35 percent of the workforce will be eligible for retirement at some point in the next five years."

Savannah River Site is also going through some retirement issues, said Tracy Pierner, the dean of technical education at Aiken Technical College.

The college in August introduced a program to begin addressing the coming job openings: a one-year certificate program in radiological control.

It now has 60 students in the program and when they're done, they'll be able to get jobs in radiation protection -- at SRS or commercial nuclear power plants or research universities. Such a job carries a median salary of $69,000, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

With SRS escalating the time frame of cleanup efforts at the site as a result of getting stimulus package money, there is going to be a short-term influx of people needed to do that, Mr. Pierner said.

"We're going to do our best to supply that short-term need. They're talking 200 radiation protection people needed in the short term. We're not going to be able to get 200 people out our doors in the next six months. We'll try to escalate some, but it is a robust program and we need time to educate people properly," Mr. Pierner said. On March 30, the college began signing up people for another new offering, an associate of applied science degree with a major in radiation protection technology.

Classes will start in August. It is two years of study for people who want a radiation protection job who don't already have an associate or bachelors degree needed to take the certificate program.

"Long term, we're going to be able to supply the demand locally," Mr. Pierner said.

There's a national shortage of industry workers because colleges did away with their training programs because of a lack of interest and need, Mr. Pierner said.

"The result of that is no one is in the pipeline to take the jobs of people who are retiring."

As for the nuclear power renaissance, there will be about 3,000 workers building the two new reactors in Waynesboro, Ga., at the peak of construction, about 2011, said Beth Thomas, a spokeswoman for Southern Nuclear. But they'll need 800 people to run them after they are done.

Southern Co. is planning to be generating electricity from Vogtle Unit 3 in 2017 and Unit 4 in 2017.

"Southern Nuclear is working with local technical colleges in the Augusta area to ensure educational programs align with Southern Nuclear's training requirements and is educating potential workers about these programs through various career awareness events in the area," Ms. Thomas said.

Mr. Singer said the industry trade group has started forming relationships with community colleges across the country to train the next generation.

"The industry is well aware of what's happening," he said.

"We have a pretty good major league team right now."

What the industry is starting to do now is create its farm system.

The institute in a couple of weeks is going to release a curriculum for community colleges to follow to have standardized training of those entering the nuclear industry.

There is enough time to get people trained for the new reactors, Mr. Singer said.

Reach Tim Rausch at (706) 823-3352 or


MECHANICAL TECHNICIAN: A mechanical technician performs preventive, corrective and special maintenance on systems, components and structural facilities to ensure the reliability of a nuclear power plant.

Education/experience needed: A high school diploma or GED. Some employers require an associates degree. Also, two to four years of experience may be desirable.

Pay: The median salary is $66,581.

ELECTRICAL TECHNICIAN: An electrical technician's duties consist of the maintenance and repair of highly complex electrical/electronic equipment required for a nuclear plant. Responsibilities include troubleshooting, testing and inspecting in a highly skilled manner.

Education/experience needed: A high school diploma or GED, as well as relevant work experience.

Pay: The median salary is $67,517.

INSTRUMENTATION AND CONTROL TECHNICIAN: An I&C technician is responsible for calibrating, testing, troubleshooting, reworking, modifying and inspecting nuclear plant instrumentation and control components and systems.

Education/experience needed: A high school diploma or GED, supplemented by specialized training in power plant instrument operation and maintenance. Some employers require professional certifications.

Pay: The median salary is $72,238.

CHEMISTRY TECHNICIAN: A chemistry technician measures and records plant chemistry and radioactivity levels, and operates chemical and radiochemical instrumentation and equipment.

Education/experience needed: A high school diploma or GED. Two years of experience are necessary, together with the successful completion of the required training and examination.

Pay: The median salary is $70,990.

RADIATION PROTECTION TECHNICIAN: Radiation protection technicians measure and record radiation levels; in addition, they service and calibrate radiation protection instruments and equipment. They play a vital role in ensuring the safety of employees working in radiation areas, as well as the facility's compliance with radiation requirements.

Education/experience needed: A high school diploma or GED, as well as two years of experience and on-the-job training.

Pay: The median salary is $69,056.

NONLICENSED OPERATOR: A nonlicensed operator supports the reactor operators and senior reactor operators. Duties include opening and closing valves, electrical breakers and other devices and directly monitoring plant equipment performance.

Education/experience needed: A high school diploma or GED, together with previous experience and one year of training. An associates degree may be preferred.

Pay: The median salary is $70,793.

REACTOR OPERATOR: A reactor operator, licensed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, is responsible for operating a reactor's controls in cooperation with the remainder of the shift team. The reactor operator moves control rods, starts and stops equipment, implements operations procedures, conducts surveillance tests and records data in logs.

Education/experience needed: A high school diploma or GED and up to five years of experience as a nonlicensed operator and one year of training. An associates or bachelor's degree may be preferred. A reactor operator must have a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Reactor Operator license.

Pay: The median salary is $77,782.

Source: Nuclear Energy Institute