Nuclear Power Careers Outlook
Few U.S. baseload (nuclear or coal) power plants have been built since 1980. This is in part because many companies have restricted construction to peaking plants, small facilities, usually natural gas- or oil-fired, that are quick to turn on and off according to swings in demand.
The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) has estimated that one-third of U.S. baseload plants are more than 30 years old and many need to be replaced. It reports the nuclear industry has three advanced plant designs ready for when companies are ready to order new baseload plants. The institute’s vision is that by 2020, 50,000 megawatts of electricity will be added to the U.S. power supply from new nuclear plants and an additional 10,000 megawatts will be added from improvements to existing nuclear plants. According to NEI, “The NEPD [National Energy Policy Development] Group recommends that the President support the expansion of nuclear energy in the United States as a major component of our national energy policy.” It further reports that two-thirds of American adults support building more nuclear power plants.
The federal government is still in the process of planning a permanent underground storage site for nuclear waste. Until that time it has a contractual obligation to open a centralized storage facility, where it will consolidate and manage used fuel from scores of nuclear power plants around the country. The U.S. Department of Energy has conducted scientific studies of Yucca Mountain, Nevada, as the site for a proposed U.S. repository for high-level radioactive waste. In 2002, President George W. Bush signed a resolution that will eventually make Yucca Mountain a permanent repository. Once the Department of Energy receives a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Committee, construction can begin and is expected to take five years.
Because of the accidents at Three Mile Island in 1979 and in Chernobyl in 1986, the public is still concerned over the safety of nuclear reactors. The nuclear industry and the federal government are developing standardized designs for nuclear power plants to make them safer, more efficient, and cost competitive with other electricity-generating plants. More effort is also being concentrated on the development of renewable resources for energy, such as solar and wind power.
Related Career Fields:
- Nuclear Engineers
- Nuclear Reactor Operators and Technicians
- Petroleum Engineers
- Power Plant Workers
- Radiation Protection Technicians