In two to four years, fully half of the workforce in the nuclear utility and radioactive waste management fields will be at retirement age. This “silver tsunami” will hit this industry hard. Young engineers and scientists who might naturally gravitate to high tech jobs on the west coast or east coast should consider the benefits of working in the nuclear industry. Especially, if their interest is in environmental protection and working to clean up our planet.
Carbon-free electricity from nuclear energy generates about 20% of the electricity in the United States. Cold War era weapons facilities management by the Department of Energy (DOE) have large amounts of radioactive waste that need to be safely removed and permanently stored.
The aging workforce is an acute issue, especially important within the government agencies and for projects located in more remote areas. Many of the DOE facilities are located in remote areas, but in locations with great natural beauty and abundant outdoor activities that should appeal to young professionals.
The DOE is working diligently on the world’s largest environmental cleanup program. DOE’s Office of Environmental Management has been charged with the responsibility of cleaning up 107 sites across the country whose area is equal to the combined area of Rhode Island and Delaware. This almost-30-year-old effort will take another 70 years and cost about $500 billion more. There are 16 sites where cleanup work is currently ongoing. They represent the biggest challenge in terms of size and contamination. Work has been completed on 91 of the smaller sites.
Today, just 17 percent of federal workers are under 35 years old. Millennials and women are key demographics to move DOE and the nuclear industry forward. They can influence its success in a variety of ways, ranging from advocacy to innovation. One organization, the Waste Management Symposia (WMS) is working hard to interest young professionals who might not otherwise consider a career in nuclear technology or radioactive waste management.
Last year, WMS held its inaugural STEM Summit which focused on DOE’s STEM efforts around the country. WMS also supports STEM through the Roy G. Post Foundation sponsorships and scholarships. Over the past sixteen years, the Roy G. Post Foundation has given $4 million to undergraduate and graduate students from all over the world who are enrolled in technical or policy studies.
More needs to be done, especially in building awareness of the job opportunities at these facilities. Every stakeholder in the industry – DOE, the nuclear utilities, and the vendors who provided services and equipment to the industry, should be focused on outreach, education, scholarships and support of STEM.