Texas Nuclear Power Plants Seek New Workforce via The Texas Tribune

PALACIOS — At first glance, the large, framed photo hanging on a wall at the state’s largest nuclear power plant seems to tell a simple story. About 200 smiling men and women stand in block formation behind a long-stretching banner — shades of a high school class portrait, though one posed in front of the domes of two nuclear reactors.

“UNIT 1 COMMERCIAL OPERATION 25 YEARS — AUGUST 25, 1988,” the banner reads.

The photo, snapped last summer, is a source of pride at the South Texas Project nuclear plant, about 90 miles southwest of Houston on 12,200 acres along the Colorado River. But for the plant’s officials, it encapsulates anxiety about who will work at the plant in the years ahead.


The company’s 1,200 employees average more than 22 years of experience, and in the next few years, about 40 percent will be eligible for retirement.

A shift in economics and public sentiment has stalled the state’s nuclear power sector, which not long ago was considered poised for growth. But as graying baby boomers prepare to hang up their Hazmat suits, officials are racing to find new talent, pouring millions of dollars into education programs in hopes of training new workers in an industry that produces about 12 percent of the state’s power.

The plant is not alone. The situation is not much different at the state’s other nuclear power plant, Comanche Peak in North Texas, or at the 100 other reactors across the country. But industry representatives say a national educational network — largely an outgrowth of a model developed in Texas — has helped ease longstanding concerns about a labor shortage.

Before 2011, energy specialists spoke of a nationwide “nuclear renaissance.” State lawmakers around the country considered measures to spur plant construction. And in 2010, President Obama promised $8.3 billion in loans for two planned Georgia reactors, further energizing nuclear advocates.

In the mid-2000s, Texas considered adding as many as eight reactors. With big plans for expansion, the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents in 2007 approved the Nuclear Power Institute at College Station — a hub of statewide collaboration between high schools, community colleges and universities — to train the next generation of workers.

“The next years will be an exciting time for nuclear power in Texas,” Kenneth L. Peddicord, the institute’s director, said at its unveiling. “We’re glad to be part of it.”

But that boom never hit.

Read more at Texas Nuclear Power Plants Seek New Workforce

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