By Maudine R. Cooper
January 5, 2011
The latest unemployment numbers reveal that African Americans seeking work still are among the hardest hit by the economic downturn. The 16 percent unemployment rate among African Americans hovers around a 25-year high, and remains six percentage points above the national average.
With unemployment concerns top of mind, leaders in the African-American community are joining President Obama in calling for additional federal support for new job opportunities in the clean energy sector, including nuclear energy. This fast-growing sector offers the promise of thousands of well-paying, long-term jobs in communities across the United States.
There is a broad coalition ready to support nuclear expansion and leverage the benefits derived from more nuclear energy plants. We recently joined more than 50 leaders from business and academia from within the Hispanic and African-American communities along with labor and industry representatives to focus on how safe, reliable nuclear energy facilities can benefit minority communities. The open dialogue, hosted in Washington D.C. by the Clean and Safe Energy (CASEnergy) Coalition, focused on workforce development, educational partnerships and supplier opportunities for minority communities and businesses.
Such a discussion is timely given continued trends in unemployment. Unlike many sectors that are contracting, there are numerous employment opportunities available in the energy sector, especially in nuclear energy. During the past few years, more than 15,000 new jobs have been created in anticipation of building new nuclear projects around the country. These jobs are well-paying, with university, community college and labor training programs that are preparing the next-generation workforce in many disciplines. Clearly, there is an increasing need for long-term partnerships between business, labor and minority groups to best leverage these job opportunities.
Nuclear energy is an economic success story – a story all Americans should be part of. One of the great values of nuclear energy is its ability to transform communities with new jobs and economic development. The 104 reactors in operation around the country each contributes an average of $430 million a year in total economic output for their local communities. That money comes in salaries, materials and state and local taxes for better schools, roads, hospitals and other infrastructure.
Each plant requires 400 to 700 workers to run it. Additional training for some of those jobs can take as little as two years, with the prospect of an immediate payoff. Average annual starting salaries in the industry range from $65,000 to $80,000. What’s more, unlike many positions in today’s economy, jobs at nuclear plants can’t be shipped overseas. And the nuclear energy industry is hiring now: nearly 40 percent of the nuclear energy workforce will be eligible to retire over the next five years, meaning the industry will need to hire as many as 20,000 workers to replace those that leave.
New jobs in the nuclear energy sector are available to minority communities through the pursuit of the workforce training and feeder programs available at historically black institutions such as Clark Atlanta University and South Carolina State University. Industry and labor strive for a diverse workforce and supplier network, and programs are in place to help achieve this goal.
These are the jobs of the future, powered by a clean energy portfolio, as nuclear power combines with emerging energy alternatives such as solar and wind to produce power that our digital economy demands.
And because nuclear power plants generate virtually no air pollution, the communities around them don’t have to trade air quality for jobs. According to a report released by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation in 2004, more than 70 percent of African Americans live in counties in violation of federal air pollution standards. But because nuclear plants emit no greenhouse gases or air pollution during the production of electricity, they can produce jobs and energy while protecting our air quality.
The economic and environmental benefits of nuclear power are important to note when considering policies to support a clean energy future. First, as the cleanest form of 24/7 baseload power, nuclear energy is needed to responsibly meet our rising electricity demand—forecasted to grow by 28 percent by 2035. Second, as part of a sustainable energy policy, we need energy sources such as nuclear power that limit carbon emissions and other pollutants. Nuclear energy generates about 70 percent of all low-carbon electricity our nation uses every year.
Work is well underway building two new reactors at near Waynesboro, Ga., the nation’s first advanced reactor technology. More than 1,500 people already are at work at the state’s largest construction project ever. At peak construction, about 3,500 new jobs will be created, along with up to 800 full-time positions once the reactors are producing electricity.
President Obama supported this project earlier this year when he announced a federal loan guarantee that will help Georgia Power gain access to financing for that project at lower rates. Democrats in Congress also support nuclear energy, led by Congressman James Clyburn, a leader within the Democratic party who is also supporting the expansion of nuclear energy’s role in the nation’s electricity mix. They are among several leaders, in both political parties, active in this effort.
The diverse group of leaders gathered at CASEnergy’s first business and minority roundtable speaks volumes about the shared desire to identify new career options and business opportunities for our respective communities. Now is the time to fully engage the African-American community so you are fully aware of the benefits that the nuclear energy sector has to offer—both by way of job creation and clean electricity production. We encourage you to join in the discussion to make sure others are involved to help strengthen the network, ensuring our communities are in the best possible position to act on the opportunities presented.
About the CASEnergy Coalition
The CASEnergy Coalition is a national grassroots coalition of over 2,500 members that unites unlikely allies across the business, environmental, academic, consumer and labor community in support of nuclear energy expansion. Members believe that nuclear energy can improve energy security, ensure clean air quality, and enhance the quality of life and economic well-being of all Americans. The industry-funded Coalition is led by Christine Todd Whitman, former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and former New Jersey Governor, and Dr. Patrick Moore, a co-founder and former leader of Greenpeace. For more information about the CASEnergy Coalition and the Business, Labor and Minority Roundtable, please visit http://www.cleansafeenergy.org.
 Minority Engineer, Fall 2009