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Nuclear, Hydrogen Group Would Identify Workforce Needs

A Nebraska bill would create a 12-member working group with representatives from the state Legislature, nuclear and hydrogen industries and the state and community college systems to create a pipeline of skilled workers.

(TNS) — A bill before the Nebraska Legislature proposes developing new education and training programs for the nuclear power plant and hydrogen hub operators of the future.

The plan (LB568) from Sen. Bruce Bostelman of Brainard would create the Nuclear and Hydrogen Industry Working Group which would be charged with identifying the workforce needs of employers and partnering with state and community colleges to build a pipeline of skilled workers.

"The need for developing a new workforce is now," Bostelman told the Natural Resources Committee on Thursday, adding the working group would "spearhead a dynamic and collaborative process" among various stakeholders.

The 12-member working group would include two representatives each from the nuclear and hydrogen industries, one each from the Nebraska State College System, the community college system, and representing public power.

It would also include the chairman of both the Natural Resources Committee and the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, the director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, and two at-large members.

All would be appointed by the governor.

Bostelman said the working group would build on the work being done to explore the feasibility of locating a hydrogen hub in Nebraska, as well as advance nuclear power facilities: "Having a workforce ready to operate will be critical."

Southeast Community College, which already produces more than a dozen graduates per year trained in operating power plants — including nuclear facilities like the Cooper Nuclear Station near Brownville — said it was ready to build out further capacity in its programs.

"There is already a large amount of interest from industry and they are looking for states to partner with on new nuclear initiatives," said David Madcharo, the energy generation operations program director at SCC. "That will happen, it's just a matter of where. Nebraska taking a lead in that would be a big feather in the cap."

Amy Ostermeyer, the executive vice president of development at Monolith, which uses renewable energy to convert natural gas into clean hydrogen and carbon, said expanding training programs at places like SCC would support growth in those industries.

Because Monolith utilizes proprietary technology, the only way the company can grow is by building new facilities — the company's Olive Creek facility opened in 2020; a second plant is scheduled to open at the same site in 2027 and it will need 200 additional workers, Ostermeyer told the committee.

Nebraska Public Power District also testified in support of the bill, saying a workforce nearing retirement could create gaps in key positions at places like Cooper, while a shortage of skilled workers could mean the nuclear plant stays offline longer in the future.

Tom Kent, president and CEO of NPPD, said small modular reactors, which the power provider is exploring adding to its fleet of generators in the future, will also need trained operators.

"To ensure Nebraska is prepared to meet the demand, a trained workforce is critical for the success of these exciting opportunities," he said.

LB568 was also supported by Day & Zimmerman, a family-owned company that specializes in construction, maintenance and operations of nuclear power plants around the world.

Ross McConnell, the company's president, said the number of skilled workers able to work on the country's nuclear infrastructure dropped by as much as 25 percent following the coronavirus pandemic.

Creating new education and training programs and conducting outreach into high schools and communities could signal the "good pay, meaningful work, and opportunities for a long, satisfying career" to future skilled workers, McConnell said.

The Natural Resources Committee did not take any action on LB568 on Thursday.

(c)2023 Lincoln Journal Star, Neb. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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