Nine area historically black colleges, eight in South Carolina and one in Georgia have been awarded $9 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Energy. The funding will be used to develop academic programs that promote minority involvement in science and technical research fields, which will help support the mission of the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management. The announcement of the grants was made at a ceremony at Allen University in Columbia, attended by Energy Department Assistant Secretary Dr. Ines Triay. Triay says the grants will help in the development of new leaders in various fields of science including nuclear technology that is in desperate need of new talent.
“All of us are aware that there is a shortage of qualified, technically trained leaders. In 2007, there were 400 graduates with a bachelor of science degree in nuclear engineering. This was a four fold increase from the late 1990’s, but there are still too few technically trained graduates. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission alone needs to hire 400 nuclear engineers per year to support its activities.”
Joining Allen University as grant recipients are Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina State and Claflin University in Orangeburg, Morris College in Sumter, Denmark Tech and Voorhees College in Denmark, Clinton Junior College in Rock Hill and Paine College in Augusta, Georgia.
Triay says the workforce in the nuclear engineering field is getting older and a new generation of the leaders must be prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. “Over the next five years the Environmental Management Office faces daunting human capital challenges as we anticipate significant staff reductions due to retirements, career changes, and other realignments that will continue to diminish our current capability as well as institutional knowledge. Our contractor workforce is also concerned about maintaining their workforce capability. There are close to 40,000 contractor staff currently supporting the Environmental Management program today.”
Triaysays there is an urgent need for an available qualified workforce especially in the nuclear field because the Office of Environmental Management faces a mission that is both ambitious and critical to the nation’s future. “The Office of Environmental Management was established in 1989 and the first step for the office was correcting the contamination problems resulting from 50 years of nuclear energy research, uranium enrichment, isotope production, weapons production, and fuel processing activities. The Office of Environmental Management program is the largest environmental clean up effort in the world, originally involving 2 million acres on 107 sites in 35 states.
One of those sites is the Savannah River Site near Aiken which alone encompasses approximately 198,000 acres within its administrative boundaries.
Sixth District Congressman Jim Clyburn attended the grants announcement. Clyburn says the grant will help area HBCUs train the workforce that will make South Carolina a leader in alternative energy development in order to secure the energy independence of the nation. Clyburn says that would include the development of wind and other energies. “We’re going to be dealing with a lot of solar, bio-fuels, and we are going to be working with these colleges and universities in that regard. We are also going to do nuclear energy and we are going to do it in such a way that these schools are going to participate.”