2012-07-02 / Local News

SCC radiation protection grads find immediate employment

Expansion to include other degrees being considered
Ledger Staff Writer

There are no shortage of job offers when graduates hit the job market from a radiation protection tech program at Spartanburg Community College in Gaffney.

Spartanburg Community College (SCC) partnered with Duke Energy in 2007 to develop a 2-year associate degree to prepare students for work in a nuclear power facility. The college was the first in the United States with this type of partnership and has enrolled 135 students since the program started.

Many program graduates are now working for Duke Energy’s Oconee, Catawba and McGuire nuclear stations.

“Virtually all our graduates find immediate employment,” said Dr. Berta Hopkins, science department chair at Spartanburg Community College. “We had students go to work at nuclear plants in California and Virginia last year.”

The Nuclear Energy Institute estimates that by 2015 there will be 4,500 jobs available for radiation protection technicians.

Duke Energy has applied for a combined operating license for its proposed $11 billion William Lee States III Nuclear Station in Cherokee County. Duke Energy anticipates it will receive the license in 2013.

“We do a comprehensive plan every year that looks 10 to 15 years into the future,” Duke Energy spokesperson Rita Sipe said. “We have not made a decision to build this (William Lee States) plant, but we are keeping this option open for our customers.”

If it is built, Sipe said the earliest a new nuclear plant could begin operations is 2021.

One question on the minds of Spartanburg Community College planners is whether Cherokee County residents will be able to take advantage of the job opportunities if a nuclear plant is built here.

“We are reviewing, revising and adding curricula to the Radiation Protection Program to meet the Nuclear Uniform Curriculum Program standards using a recently obtained grant from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” Hopkins said. “This will allow our graduates to seamlessly obtain employment at any nuclear power plant in the USA. We have other projects that we are investigating for development, such as Nuclear Power Operator and Nuclear Power Maintenance, that are on hold due to the Duke Energy merger situation.”

S.C. Electric and Gas has started work on two new $10 billion reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Jenkinsville in Fairfield County. This is an expansion of the V.C. Summer plant which opened in the summer of 1976.

About 23 percent of today’s workers at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station live in Fairfield and adjacent Newberry counties. The rest come from other counties, such as Kershaw and Chester.

The average pay is 36 percent higher for workers at V.C. Summer than other companies in the area.

Fairfield County is presently working to put education programs in place so its 24,000 residents are in better position to benefit from the economic and social benefits which will come with the nuclear station’s expansion.

Cherokee 2020 consultant Oscar Fuller said the situation at V.C. Summer is one example of the need to develop a highly trained technical workforce for future and existing industries in Cherokee County. Fuller said the county’s current top priorities should be training workers to fill current manufacturing jobs, develop a pool of workers for future industry and train qualified people in the event Duke Energy decides to build the William Lee States III Nuclear Station.

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