With demand for electricity forecasted to increase 22% by 2035, the demand for workers in the nuclear energy field is also expected to increase, according to a report by the Nuclear Energy Institute. The NEI expects 39% of workers in the nuclear industry to be eligible for retirement by 2018. There will be a demand for workers particularly in the areas of health physics and nuclear engineering, according to NEI, and the industry is expected to ramp up its efforts to recruit and retain a high-quality workface. According to NEI, ethnic minorities and women are on the industry’s recruiting radar screens.
The need to improve the energy delivery infrastructure for new reactors and meet the increasing demand for electricity appears to drive the industry’s manpower recruiting efforts. According to the Energy Information Administration, where nuclear power is the source, electricity generation capacity for power generation is expected to climb to 110.6 gigawatts in 2020, an increase of approximately 9.4% over 2011 generating capacity of 101.1 gigawatts. EIA expected an annual growth rate of .4% in electricity generation powered by nuclear between 2011 and 2040.
In addition, nuclear power accounts for less than one percent the electricity generating capacity expected to be retired in 2020. While .6 gigawatts of nuclear generating capacity is expected to be taken offline in 2020, almost 48 gigawatts of coal sourced generating capacity is being taken off line in 2020 along with 15.5 gigawatts of oil and natural gas steam generated electricity capacity.
The favorable view of clean energy as an alternative to fossil based fuels may also be driving demand for more nuclear facilities. According to NEI concerns about greenhouse emissions and air quality adds validity to adding more nuclear capacity to America’s energy mix.
NEI expects positive impacts on the labor market from the construction of nuclear plants. They estimate that the nuclear industry will hire on average 5,000 workers a year during the period 2012 through 2016. Building new nuclear facility, according to NEI, adds 3,500 employees at the peak of a facility’s construction.
It’s difficult to assess the potential pool of candidates for employment as nuclear engineers. While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there were approximately 11,000 people employed as nuclear engineers in the U.S., the Bureau has no data on the number of ethnic minorities currently employed in that occupation.
Whatever that number is may also be shrinking as the number of minorities graduating with engineering degrees has stayed either flat or fallen. According to the National Action Committee on Minority Engineers, engineering degrees accounted for a small and slightly declining proportion of all bachelor’s degrees conferred between 1995 and 2005. For example, 3.3% of bachelor’s degrees earned by Black Americans in 1995 were engineering degrees. By 2005 the percentage declined to 2.5%. Approximately 5.5% of bachelor degrees conferred on Hispanic Americans were in engineering, but by 2005 this percentage fell to 4.2%.
The demand for electricity generation sourced by nuclear energy is increasing and along with that demand there is an increasing need to construct additional capacity, but unless minorities can increase the number of engineers within their population, these job opportunities may be lost.