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Memo to the President-Elect (Part 2)

A clear and present need for nuclear energy expansion.

Fortnightly Magazine - December 2008

Japan, since these companies have the capabilities that domestic ones have lost.

According to a recent article published in Science, nine out of 10 scientists and engineers worldwide now can be found in Asia. The United States has lost the skilled manufacturing and construction workforce to other industries and to retirement. Further, the average age 9 of the personnel needed to run commercial nuclear power plants safely has continued to rise as fewer young engineers and technicians are attracted to what became known as a moribund field. This is reflected by four-year university nuclear engineering programs, which went from 38 in the 1970s to 25 today. If not for operators trained by the U.S. Navy’s nuclear power program, and attracted by relatively high wages upon leaving the military, the commercial industry would have had significant skilled workforce concerns years ago. However, while this trickle of trained operators has been sufficient to make up losses for the existing plants, a resurgence will require significant numbers 10 of engineers and technicians to design, build, maintain, and operate the next generation of power plants.

The administration actively should support development and maintenance of the necessary industrial and human capital needed to support the nuclear renaissance. This includes:

Working closely with Congress to develop legislation that supports the domestic reestablishment of nuclear-grade manufacturing infrastructure;

Working with vendor and international partners to ensure that materials and major components needed to build new nuclear power plants can be manufactured and delivered in a timely manner;

Working with Congress to develop legislation that allows for additional visas ( i.e., H-1B) for highly educated engineers, scientists, and technicians;

Developing public-private university partnerships that will provide scholarships, paid internships, cooperative education programs, and training programs to address these emerging needs, including craft capabilities;

Partnering with trade unions and industry trade groups to develop training programs for apprentice and journeyman blue-collar jobs that support maintenance and construction of the energy infrastructure; and

Expanding the U.S. Navy’s nuclear power program (and perhaps the nascent U.S. Air Force program) to attract more technicians and engineers, with the understanding that they will be placed in the ready reserve upon graduation and will maintain their operational skills by working at new and existing commercial power plants.

Nationalizing Regulation

The United States tends to have a schizophrenic personality when it comes to governmental oversight; this is evident by the number of Congressional committees and federal and state agencies that share regulatory oversight for various issues. Such diversity of authority leads to challenges and gaps in assuring that the regulated industry is in full compliance, and it can lead to conflicted requirements from the diverse groups. This can be particularly challenging when dealing with the federal-state nexus of authorities, especially if the administration wants to foster the burgeoning domestic nuclear renaissance.

To resolve these concerns for commercial nuclear power generation, the administration should champion legislation to federalize all nuclear regulatory oversight under one authority, an expanded NRC, which would be responsible for overseeing the nuclear renaissance. This would give the