Retooling the Workforce for Small Modular Reactors
Dec15

Retooling the Workforce for Small Modular Reactors

Smaller reactors have many advantages, but in order to be cost effective in competitive energy markets a typical small modular reactor (SMR) will need to operate with a much smaller workforce than today’s large commercial nuclear energy facilities.  This will mandate a retooling of existing nuclear training programs to align with the knowledge and skills needed by the SMR staff. As opposed to fossil-fueled power plants in which the majority of operating costs are associated with the fuel they burn, the majority of the costs of generating electricity from nuclear energy are associated with the costs of capital to build the plant, and the ongoing cost of people needed to operate and maintain (O&M) the plant.  The capital costs, determined by construction & financing costs, are generally fixed during the first decades of operation.  The O&M costs, however, vary over the life of the plant and are highly dependent on overall labor costs; the number of people required and their salaries and benefits, contracted labor costs, and the cost of out-sourced services. For this reason the long-term economic viability of nuclear energy facilities relies upon maintaining capacity factors high and labor costs reasonable and predictable.  Obviously, the balance sheet also depends on the structure of the energy market in which the facility is located. Anti-nuclear groups understand this connection between labor costs and economic viability.  For years their strategy has been to convince nuclear regulators of the need for ever-tougher standards resulting in larger and larger staff sizes and thus tighter profit margins.  They are, in a very deliberate way, working to regulate nuclear energy out of business.  Coupled with lower electricity market prices brought about by falling natural gas prices, these higher labor costs mean some smaller nuclear plants are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain profitability. Utilities planning to deploy SMRs can expect these same anti-nuclear groups to push for regulations to limit their ability to operate with the smaller staff sizes needed. Using “ball park” numbers, today’s large 1000 MWe nuclear plants typically employ a staff of about 700 people, or about 0.7 people per megawatt. At this ratio a 100 MWe SMR would employ only about 70.  Under today’s paradigm of division of labor within a nuclear plant, separate groups of specialized workers perform various functions; operators operate the plant, maintenance technicians maintain and repair the equipment, chemists monitor and control the chemistry within plant systems, planners and schedulers do the planning and scheduling, and radiation protection technicians monitor radiation levels and help ensure everyone works safely.  The staff size enables economies of scale; in this case specialization is efficient because the amount of work...

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The Global Nuclear Renaissance Rolls On, Career Opportunities Continue
Dec07

The Global Nuclear Renaissance Rolls On, Career Opportunities Continue

Despite claims by anti-nuclear groups of the pending demise of nuclear energy production in the United States, the nuclear renaissance is alive and well. According to the non-partisan Energy Information Administration, nuclear energy production in the USA will continue to expand for the next 25 years. Electricity generation from nuclear power plants grows by 14 percent in the AEO2013 Reference case, from 790 billion kilowatt-hours in 2011 to 903 billion kilowatt-hours in 2040, accounting for about 17 percent of total generation in 2040 (compared with 19 percent in 2011). Nuclear generating capacity increases from 101 gigawatts in 2011 to a high of 114 gigawatts in 2025 through a combination of new construction (5.5 gigawatts), uprates at existing plants (8.0 gigawatts), and retirements (0.6 gigawatts). Coupled with retirements among the 120,000 people who work in the nuclear industry, this expansion means continued career opportunities building, operating and maintaining the nation’s fleet of commercial reactors.  And this is just the start.  In addition to the 100 commercial nuclear plants operating in United States, there are 335 in operation in other nations and 73 more under construction (including four in the USA). Recently announced shutdowns of four nuclear energy facilities in the USA has done little to dampen the demand for talent; the industry has more than enough demand for knowledgeable workers to absorb those displaced by plant closures. While some older nuclear plants will gradually go out of service over the next few decades they’ll be replaced with larger power plants that require larger staff sizes.  New technologies like small modular reactors may add even more jobs in advanced manufacturing and construction. What does all this mean for career opportunities? Every nuclear plant employs at about 600 to 1500 people depending on the power plant size, the technology used, and the number of reactors at the facility.  In the USA alone the combination of modest expansion and hiring to replace about 40% of the workforce over the next decade means nuclear energy companies will hire 30,000 to 50,000 new engineers, operators, and technicians.  The numbers are even larger in other countries where growth will create more than 70,000 career opportunities as new facilities come on line. If you are interested in more information about careers in the nuclear industry, check out the information at the links below: Explore Amazing Career Opportunities in Nuclear Energy 5 Nuclear Jobs Starting at $50,000 that don’t require a 4-year degree...

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The Five R’s of Nuclear Workforce Planning
Nov29

The Five R’s of Nuclear Workforce Planning

If you ask ten nuclear managers to define “workforce planning” you’ll likely get ten different answers. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; each organization, and even different groups within the same organization, is likely to have very different challenges that dictate what managers need from an effective workforce planning process and strategy. Examples include retaining talent in the midst of fierce competition, dealing with the pending loss of critical knowledge when retirees leave the workforce, and balancing workload with talent supply to optimize costs. While the problems and the strategies to address them cover a wide spectrum, the fundamental goals of every workforce planning strategy is “the five Rs”; to get the Right people, with the Right skills, in the Right place, at the Right time, at the Right cost. That’s tougher than it sounds because before you can execute the “five Rs” you have to know what the “right skills” are, where they’re needed, when they’ll be needed, and who possess them. Because nuclear energy facilities and the business and regulatory environment they operate in are ever-changing, workforce planning strategies need to be flexible, adaptable, and periodically refreshed. A systematic approach to workforce planning will ensure that strategies evolve with the business and the challenges.  In the nuclear industry we’re accustomed to the “Systematic Approach to Training.”  We need to add the “Systematic Approach to Workforce Planning” to our vocabulary. Having an agreed upon workforce planning approach is vitally important because it forms the basis for establishing the roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders in executing effective workforce planning. Executives, line managers, workforce planning analysts, the financial organization, and the talent management team must collaborate to build and execute workforce strategies if they are to succeed. Each group must understand how they contribute to achieving that success. Having a mutually agreed upon process is the first step in obtaining that alignment. Here is one example of a workforce planning model.   What are your...

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