U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   05/20/2004
 
Statement of Barkley Jones, Ph. D.
Professor
Department of Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Oversight on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Chairman Voinovich, Mr. Carper and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to provide your committee with some information and perspectives about the roll that nuclear engineering programs have in providing a supply of educated professionals to the required work force in the nuclear field. This topic is a central concern of the Nuclear Engineering Department Heads Organization (NEDHO), which I chaired several years ago. This organization includes the Heads and Chairs of all nuclear engineering departments/programs in the US and is broadly representative of our common interests. I am speaking this morning from my personal interests as a long time faculty member and former Head of the Department of Nuclear, Plasma and Radiological Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It is the sole department of nuclear engineering in Illinois, the birthplace of the first man-made nuclear reactor and currently the state with the most operating nuclear power plants, eleven at six sites.

Last year testimony was presented before the Energy Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science by my colleague Professor James Stubbins at the Hearing on University Resources for the “Future of Nuclear Science and Engineering Programs.” That presentation delineated the interacting forces that were bringing attention to the need for support and growth of university programs in nuclear science and engineering to address the manpower needs facing the field. These forces are equally active today and point to the continued need to nurture and support these educational programs. In particular, several activities impact directly on the workload of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and its need for human resources to address them in a timely manner. I will list only four:

· licensing of the Yucca Mountain high level waste repository;
· evaluation of early site permits and combined construction license applications for new nuclear power plant construction;
· continued evaluation of existing nuclear plant life extension requests: and
· evaluation for licensing of Generation IV reactor designs;

To meet the demands of this increased workload, the Commission will be faced with strong competition for educated and experienced professionals in the field. The emerging graduates from nuclear engineering programs generally are not highly experienced, but they are well educated. The experienced workers in the field will continue to be in high demand, but are shrinking in numbers due to the disproportionate distribution of mature persons in the demographic making up the workforce. This will be a continuing and increasing challenge, at least over the next decade.

The workforce demographic, thus, becomes a significant issue. It cannot be transformed to meet demand in a short time frame because of the inherent four-year BS educational time frame, and even longer if MS and PhD degrees are involved. In addition, there is a period immediately following graduation in which experience is an important aspect to fully integrate the graduates into being productive employees. But all is not bad news. Over the past two or three years there have been increases in undergraduate enrollments in nuclear science and engineering programs. This increase will also work its way into graduate degree programs. However, graduate programs are driven, not so much by the workplace demand conditions, but by limitations imposed by the availability of funded research contracts to support graduate study. It is important to note that much of the fundamental research funding is from government sources. Thus, it is no surprising to observe that there is a strong correlation between such funding and enrollments. Funding remains a vitally important necessity to retain viable nuclear science and engineering programs within leading universities.

Focusing more directly on the manpower needs side in the nuclear engineering field, a common issue emerges, the aging of the experienced workforce. In the nuclear power sector, many of the experienced employees will reach normal retirement age within the present decade. Although there has been downsizing of operating and support staff at power stations since deregulation of the electric utility industry, there is projected to remain a shortfall in vital experienced and certified staff. Similar conditions exist in the the Nuclear Regulatory Commission technical staff, in government nuclear laboratories and in university nuclear engineering faculties.

These shortages cut across BS, MS and PhD degree levels. The supply of a decade ago of operational and support staff from US Navy personnel entering the civilian workforce has also diminished. Estimates of the shortfall between BS and MS Annual Employment Needs and students graduated range from 350 in 1999 to more than 450 in 2003. This has been exacerbated by the rapid and precipitous decline of enrollments in BS nuclear engineering programs from ~1500 in 1992 to less than 500 in 2000. A steady growth has occurred to where there are about 1000 currently enrolled. Continued growth is projected as next year’s applications and admissions are remaining steady and strong. Thus, the supply side is currently strong, but well below the earlier mentioned short fall in graduating numbers of nuclear engineers.

Can the remaining nuclear engineering programs handle the increased enrollments? The answer is generally yes, presently. But the teaching staff are also aging and replacements need to be immediately acquired to make the transition smooth and effective. A study in which the distributed age of nuclear engineering faculty by the Nuclear Energy Institute is incorporated in the bar graph included here. This clearly shows a skewed distribution with the expected significant retirements in the next 5 to 10 years. Working against the earlier replacement is the relatively small size of nuclear engineering departments and enrollments, compared to electrical, mechanical and computer science units. It requires enlightened administrations to respond favorably to the nuclear engineering national needs.

In conclusion the educational programs in US universities have much of the necessary infrastructure but will need to replace and add faculty in a timely manner in order to continue the increased enrollments to meet the discussed personnel demands. Clearly continued and expanded government is essential to retain present trends and meet projected nuclear engineering staffing needs in the nuclear field.

I would be pleased to respond to your questions.