Nuclear Debate 13 - Shortage of Nuclear Engineers

              The last couple of posts to this blog featured boosters of nuclear power claiming that with the construction of new reactors in the U.S., the future is bright for nuclear power. I believe that the past year’s worth of posts to this blog detail just how wrong that assessment is. The boosters brush off past nuclear accidents as not really that serious and claim that the new reactors will be even safer and more immune to accidents. Nuclear fallout from bombs and accidents is a serious concern but there is another kind of  “nuclear “fallout. My posts and links about Fukushima show how a nuclear disaster such as Fukushima reverberates throughout the country of origin and, indeed, the entire world. There are social, political, economic and health impacts that are still causing problems almost two years after the disaster. Even if a nuclear disaster does not immediately kill a lot of people, the repercussions go on for years and cost billions of dollars.

              France is considering what to do about their nuclear power program. A recent analysis suggested that France should either commit to continue getting eighty percent of their power from nuclear sources or they should immediately start to wind down their dependence on nuclear power. One of the problems with continuing to use nuclear power is the fact that there are many unsolved problems and countries such as Germany are eliminating nuclear power. The disaster at Fukushima has caused a worldwide reappraisal of the wisdom of using nuclear energy to generate electricity and generated a ground swell of public rejection of nuclear energy. The analysis concluded that of the two main choices, ending nuclear power would be the better one. One of their arguments is that the pool of skilled personnel needed to run their reactors is diminishing. Many nuclear professionals will be retiring soon and young people considering what to study in college may turn away from nuclear engineering because of the uncertainty of nuclear power’s future in France. Unfortunately, the analysis also concluded that it was most likely that France would choose neither of the main alternatives and would, instead, engage in a protracted debate on nuclear power which would cause even more problems in the long run than getting out of or committing to stay in nuclear power now.

              There are new stories emerging from Fukushima that claim that it is getting to be more and more difficult for the operators of the stricken Fukushima power plant to find the skilled workers that it needs to keep working on recovery from the disaster. One reason is that some of the staff are reaching their limit of long term radiation exposure and will have to retire for health reasons. Another reason is that there are many better paying jobs in the construction industry rebuilding from the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that destroyed the Fukushima power plant. There is also the possibility that as reactors are being built in other countries, Japanese nuclear professionals may be lured away to work outside of Japan.

             TEPCO, the operators of the Fukushima plant, claim that they are not aware of any problems with staffing. One possible reason for this is the fact that TEPCO subcontracts with other firms for staffing. Some of these firms, in turn, subcontract from other firms. In some cases, there may be as many as five levels of contractors between TEPCO and the companies that are actually hiring people. The reports of a lack of available workers are coming from the lower level contractors so TEPCO is not really aware of the problem.  A survey in December of 2012 found that over half the works at Fukushima were not actually working for the particular contractors who were supposed to be employing them.

             The world wide attraction of nuclear engineering jobs took a big hit from the Fukushima disaster. Another big nuclear disaster will make working in the industry even less attractive. The staffing problem is just another one of the peripheral problems haunting the global nuclear industry aside from the big problems such as accidents and waste disposal.

Nuclear workers in training:

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