Nearly $4 million in federal grants have expanded education and training for nuclear science students at five local colleges to help meet workforce demands at nuclear sites in Georgia and South Carolina.
About 300 college students have enrolled in programs funded or partially funded by U.S. Department of Energy grants managed by the Savannah River Site Community Reuse Organization. In four years, the grants have totaled $3.8 million.
Educators from college programs using the Advancing Nuclear Skills Regionally grant money met Thursday with business leaders from area nuclear employers including Savannah River Site and its contractors, Southern Co. and SCE&G.
“The training we are discussing is specialized and intended to benefit the very employers in this room. Uniquely, many of these programs will also be of interest to other industries in our region,” said Lisa Palmer, the chair of the SRS CRO Nuclear Workforce Initiative.
Georgia Regents University, Augusta and Aiken technical colleges, University of South Carolina Aiken and the University of South Carolina Salkehatchie Leadership Institute near Allendale, S.C., have created or expanded programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education. In many of the programs, students have research and internship opportunities to help them prepare for careers.
Aiken Tech used grant money to establish associates degree programs in welding and nuclear quality systems, said David Deal, nuclear programs department chair. A majority of the graduates of the first classes have found local employment, he said.
Augusta Tech created a chemical technology associates program; Georgia Regents started nuclear science tracks in chemistry and physics degrees; USC Aiken founded a 5-year program for environmental remediation and restoration biology; and the Salkehatchie program began STEM education outreach to elementary and secondary schools.
The demand for nuclear workers in the region has grown with the advent of new nuclear facilities. Nuclear reactors are under construction at V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Jenkinsville, S.C. and Plant Vogtle in Waynesboro, Ga. At Savannah River Site, a new mixed-oxide fuel fabrication facility is being built.
A 2009 study commissioned by the SRS CRO found that about 10,000 new nuclear workers would be needed in the area over the next decade to fill jobs at the new sites and replace retiring workers.
Jeff Archie, the chief nuclear officer for SCE&G, said the education partnerships created by the federal grants have been crucial for filling gaps in the workforce at the V.C. Summer nuclear reactor construction site. Associate degree programs have produced successful workers at the site, he said.
Because the grant programs collaborate closely with the employers, Archie said the schools incorporate skills that match expectations at work sites.
“The need is real and the partnerships are important. There has to be healthy collaboration,” he said.