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Commercial Nuclear Power Industry

Assessing and Meeting the Radiation Protection Workforce Needs

Hiatt, Jerry W.

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doi: 10.1097/HP.0000000000000608
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IN DETERMINING and addressing workforce needs, the commercial nuclear power industry has had an advantage over other nuclear-related industries in that the commercial industry has assigned the coordination of the assessment and development of the workforce to a single entity, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). The purpose of this paper is to describe the overall workforce analysis and development process and to focus on the results, particularly in the area of radiation protection technicians/health physicists.


Historically, the commercial nuclear power industry’s pipelines for developing the necessary technical workforce, including positions such as non-licensed operators, maintenance personnel, and chemistry and radiation protection technicians, included the U.S. Navy and direct-hires from local high school graduates. However, beginning in the early 2000s, shortages of supplemental radiation protection personnel used to support major reactor outage periods (e.g., refueling outages, steam generator replacements) began to indicate that the demand for qualified radiation safety technicians could soon exceed the supply, not only during outage periods but during routine operations as well.

By 2007, overall industry workforce studies revealed that with a large number of projected retirees and other factors, existing pipelines (e.g., U.S. Navy, local high schools) would not be sufficient to fill the industry’s pipeline for other work categories. It was also recognized that many current high school graduates did not have the basic knowledge or skills to be successful in the industry’s initial training programs.

A new pipeline needed to be developed to ensure that qualified individuals remain available to meet the demands of industry. At the direction of industry, NEI coordinated the development of the Work Force Working Group (WFWG). Fig. 1 details the composition of the current WFWG and demonstrates the multiple organizations that were coordinated by NEI to address the issue.

Fig. 1
Fig. 1:
Industry work-force working group composition.

With the coordination of NEI over a several year period, the WFWG developed the Nuclear Uniform Curriculum Program (NUCP) to ensure that the industry has the right people in the right places at the right times to staff current and future fleet needs. Since its inception, as shown on Fig. 2, the NUCP has matured to include more than 27 2‐y education institutions partnered with the industry. Six of these schools meet the NUCP criteria to provide 2‐y degreed radiation safety technicians.

Fig. 2
Fig. 2:
Nuclear uniform curriculum program summary.

A key component in developing the radiation safety workforce via the NUCP is to facilitate the creation of “articulation agreements” between the 2‐y degree schools and 4‐y and advanced degree colleges, which will allow 2‐y school graduates to continue to pursue more advanced degrees, perhaps supported by their employer. Thereby two needs are met—the need for a consistent supply of radiation safety technicians and the development of 4‐y or advanced-degreed health physicists.

The goals of the NUCP continue to include:

  • Reducing redundancy and overlap of programs to help ensure industry-sponsored programs are viable;
  • Managing the expansion and content of programs offered;
  • Leveraging investments by sharing curriculum, best practices and innovations;
  • Increasing the nuclear-specific knowledge of program graduates, thereby expediting their initial industry training; and
  • Providing an academic foundation for new entrants into the nuclear workforce that will support their continued career development.

The NUCP consists of a three-step approach to:

  1. Quantify the need;
  2. Define the curriculum; and
  3. Implement the right number of programs in each region.

A major advantage to the industry is that since graduates have already received the technical education as part of their degree program, NUCP graduates can be waived or exempted from significant portions of required initial training once hired by a utility.

As part of the industry workforce assessment process, NEI conducts an annual graduate supply-and-demand balancing analysis. All partners participate, and information is provided on both a regional and national level. This analysis provides predictions and recommendation as to how many new students should be enrolled in the operations, maintenance, radiation protection and chemistry disciplines to fulfill the hiring needs in future years.

NEI and the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) worked closely with industry to develop the curriculum for the NUCP so the material used matched closely the initial training requirements at the utilities. The curriculum is outlined in the Uniform Curriculum Guide for Nuclear Power Plant Technician, Maintenance, and Non-licensed Operations Personnel Associate Degree Programs (ACAD 08‐006). This National Academy for Nuclear Training Document (ACAD) includes all of the learning objectives NUCP schools must cover. The ACAD document aligns to all federal training and education requirements developed by the U.S. government for nuclear plant workers and allows for graduates from NUCP academic partners to be employed at any nuclear company in the country.

To enhance the ability to match supply vs. demand before forming a new partnership with an academic institute, industry members contact the NEI program manager, who provides regional supply and demand data to help conduct a needs assessment for a new partnership and a current listing of industry partnerships in place or under development in that region. Once there is agreement that a new partnership is needed, utility sponsors select a local community college.

Becoming a NUCP academic partner is a rigorous process. Academic partners must demonstrate that their curriculum meets all of the learning objectives outlined in the ACAD document. This is accomplished by completing a NUCP gap analysis, which is then reviewed and approved by the partnering utility and NEI. Then, the academic partner executes an agreement of understanding that outlines the rigorous oversight requirements required by the industry. The last step is for the partnership to complete a challenge board. This allows the partnership to issue the industry-recognized credentials to graduates, which allows for transportability and advanced entry into initial training programs. Each education partner’s status, NUCP gap analysis, and agreement of understanding are then posted to a common website where industry members can confirm a school’s status in the program.

The success of the NUCP is demonstrated in Fig. 3 in that the recent job placement for NUCP school graduates is greater than 75%. Additionally, in the period from when the first program graduates entered the workforce in 2009 until 2014, roughly 5% of the commercial nuclear power radiation safety technician workforce has graduated from a NUCP institute.

Fig. 3
Fig. 3:
Employment percentage—NUCP program graduates.


In addition to developing a workforce pipeline, an equally important responsibility of the WFWG is to assess the status of the industry workforce and to project any changes in needs. Therefore, every 2 y, NEI coordinates a survey of the commercial nuclear power industry workforce, focusing on workforce age demographics, anticipated retirements/attrition, and the number of projected hires. As stated earlier, this information is used to provide feedback to the NUCP schools to ensure that the supply of graduates aligns with hiring demands.

Fig. 4 shows the age demographic results from the 2015 industry survey. The data represent 100% of the 2015 workforce with all utilities and multiple industry personnel suppliers participating.

Fig. 4
Fig. 4:
Commercial nuclear power employment—2015 age distribution.

The data demonstrate that the industry is beginning to achieve the overall goal of developing a younger workforce. When broken down by discipline, data do indicate that there are two disciplines that still require industry focus—maintenance and radiation protection. The WFWG will continue to closely monitor the demographics in these areas.


In addressing radiation-related staffing needs, the status of two employee categories must be reviewed— radiation safety technicians and station health physicist (usually 4‐y and advanced-degreed individuals.) Per utility data, as compared to the number of technicians needed, far fewer staff health physicists are needed to support plant activities. This difference is reflected in hiring needs.

One of the successes of the NUCP initiative is that the supply of radiation safety technicians from the NUCP vs. projected positions is monitored and is constantly attuned to meet industry hiring needs. Health physicist positions are most often filled from 4 y and advanced degree programs. Fig. 5 shows the available data of graduates from these programs (ORISE 2016).

Fig. 5
Fig. 5:
Total number of health physics program graduates.


Human resource data from the 2015 survey, using projected retirement and attrition data and the projected supply from 2‐y institutions and 4‐y advanced-degree programs, indicate that for full-time utility staffing, the needs of both the radiation protection technician and health physicist categories are currently being met.

An unfortunate additional factor on the “supply” side has been the number of available technicians and health physicists seeking employment when utilities announce the shutdown of operating units (e.g., Kewaunee, San Onofre, Vermont Yankee). In reality, it appears that additional units may be shutting down over the next 5 y as well, adding additional resources to the “supply side.”

The industry certainly realizes that should the number of 4‐y/advanced-degree academic programs decrease or if there is a significant increase in the demands of competing industry segments (e.g., U.S. Departments of Energy or Defense, medical programs), a shortage of health physicists is a possibility. This potential is tracked by the WFWG, and hiring practices would be adjusted as needed.

As a final note, the WFWG continues to closely track the age demographics in the radiation safety technician/health physicist areas to ensure that an adequate number of qualified personnel will remain available to support the industry.


Institute of Nuclear Power Operations/National Academy for Nuclear Training. Uniform curriculum guide for nuclear power plant technician, maintenance, and non-licensed operations personnel associate degree programs, ACAD 08‐006. Atlanta, GA: INPO/NANT; 2011.
    Nuclear Energy Institute. Gap Analysis Tool [online]. Washington, DC: NEI; 2016. Available at Accessed 8 July 2016.
      Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education. Health physics enrollments and degrees survey, 2015 data. Oak Ridge, TN: ORISE; Publication Number 77.1; 2016.

      NEI is the organization responsible for establishing unified industry policy on matters affecting the nuclear energy industry, including the regulatory aspects of generic operational and technical issues. NEI’s members include all entities licensed to operate commercial nuclear power plants in the United States, nuclear plant designers, major architect/engineering firms, fuel cycle facilities, nuclear materials licensees, and other organizations and entities involved in the nuclear energy industry.
      Cited Here


      National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements; education; health physics; power plant, nuclear

      © 2017 by the Health Physics Society