The University of Texas at Austin Cockrell School of Engineering

Why Spend a Summer Studying Nuclear Engineering?

2009 GroupMaybe you’re interested in starting your career at a nuclear power plant or utility, an engineering firm that designs and builds nuclear reactors, or governmental agencies like the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or the Department of Energy. Or perhaps you’d like to study nuclear engineering in graduate school, but like many people who hold advanced degrees in nuclear engineering, including most of the faculty at UT-Austin, you’re not majoring in nuclear engineering as an undergrad. You might even be satisfying a curiosity you’ve had and wish to explore what nuclear engineering is like before making any decisions. crystalThere’s been a lot of talk of a Nuclear Renaissance, and plans for six new power plants have been announced for Texas alone. But let’s look at the bigger picture. How many jobs are there, and who’s getting them?

Growth in the supply of trained nuclear engineers has been exceeded by demand growth. Trained nuclear engineers have been in high demand because of the high turnover in the aging nuclear industrial workforce; however the construction of a generation of new nuclear power plants will play an even more significant role in the employment dynamics of the industry. Domestic utilities have announced plans to construct nearly thirty new plants over the next decade and a half. Operational and support staffing needs for these new plants will be considerable: it has been estimated that a demand for tens of thousands of engineers working in nuclear-related disciplines will develop . Of more pressing concern, however, is the design, engineering, licensing and regulatory work needed to bring these plans to fruition. Demand for skilled employees in these areas is affecting a profound and immediate impact on the nuclear job market.
"The primary aim of the Institute is to give you – the mechanical or electrical engineer, the physicist or chemist – the edge by giving you the laboratory experience, including experience with a research reactor, that sets the best job or grad school candidates apart."

Two examples serve to illustrate the pressing need for young talent at the outset of the pathway to the nuclear renaissance. Westinghouse Electric, a major reactor vendor and provider of operational support services, has announced its need for 500 trained engineers per year for the foreseeable future. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) faces a demand for new talent on a similar scale and is expected to hire between 300 and 400 employees per year. Moreover, the NRC has expanded the workforce at its Office of New Reactors considerably, with some one-third of its current level of 350 staff having been hired in the past two years.

Two facts regarding this vast tide of new nuclear industry employees are important to students graduating over the next few years. First, a significant majority of these personnel will not have been trained as nuclear engineers. This is consistent with past employment patterns in the industry, where mechanical, electrical and civil engineers have always outnumbered those holding a nuclear engineering degree and will continue to do so. Second, a large majority of entrants to the nuclear industry – exact statistics are impossible to obtain – will have been trained in a university environment that does not include an operating nuclear reactor. This holds true for nuclear engineering degree holders as well as the rest.

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