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[cdn-nucl-l] Hot job in Germany: nuclear engineer
Posted in the CSM on April 4, 2006 and on Yahoo News at:
Hot job in Germany: nuclear engineer
By Valerie Volcovici, Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor
Tue Apr 4, 4:00 AM ET
OSNABRUCK, GERMANY - Undeterred by the fact that Germany has decided to
phase out its nuclear energy capacity by 2021, Phillip Schumann is pursuing
his career goal of becoming a manager at one of his country's 17 nuclear
"I believe that within the next 20 years, Germans will realize that nuclear
energy will be necessary for our energy security," said the electrical
engineering student at a nuclear industry fair here in February. "Although I
am in the minority now, I am optimistic about the future for nuclear energy
Mr. Schumann added that he was encouraged by recent statements such as
German Economics Minister Michael Glos's call for a rethink of Germany's
planned nuclear phase-out after the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute in January
exposed the vulnerability of Europe's energy supply.
Across Europe, such reassessments of nuclear power are beginning to creep
back onto the political scene. Even in antinuclear Germany, leaders raised
the issue at a summit Monday on long-term energy policy.
Although many are skeptical about a nuclear revival, there is a growing
expectation that the lifetimes of Germany's operational nuclear power plants
could be extended to as much as 40 years. However, the country's nuclear
workforce is imminently approaching a "retirement cliff," creating a
pressing need for young nuclear engineers.
In 2001, not a single student graduated with a degree in nuclear
engineering, a study by Germany's Society for Reactor Safety found. And as
soon as 2010, 1,700 qualified new graduates will be needed to replace the
latest wave of retirees at Germany's nuclear power plants, government
agencies, and research facilities, according to the Competence Network on
To address the personnel problem, the German Atomic Forum (DAtF), a nuclear
industry group, started hosting in 2002 twice-yearly recruitment
"colloquia," such as the mid- February session in Osnabruck, to attract
young people to the field. The DAtF has been particularly interested in
targeting students like Schumann, who study more general sciences, such as
physics or electrical engineering, but lack specialization in nuclear
"Many young engineers believe that there is no future for them in the
nuclear industry, but what they don't realize is that even if the phase-out
policy remains, there will be jobs for at least another generation," says
Dieter Marx, executive manager of the DAtF. He added that given Germany's
high unemployment rate, the industry should be attractive because any
qualified candidate will almost certainly be guaranteed a job.
As nations like China and India pave the way for the next generation of
nuclear power plants, Chancellor Angela Merkel - a former physicist - has
defended the merits of preserving or prolonging the use of nuclear energy in
order to maintain Germany's global role as innovator and intellectual
"In my view, an ideologically motivated nuclear phase-out does not reflect
economic demands," said Mrs. Merkel ahead of last September's general
election. "For me, the question is, how can Germany - with its technical
know-how - profit from this export potential?"
But since Merkel's conservatives formed a "grand coalition" with the Social
Democrats after the election, she has insisted that her administration will
respect the nuclear phase-out negotiated under her predecessor, Gerhard
Schröder, and his coalition partner, the Green Party. However, conservative
members of parliament have publically advocated for nuclear energy, calling
it "absolutely essential for the foreseeable future" in a position paper for
The public is largely opposed to nuclear despite the fact that it accounts
for roughly one-third of Germany's electricity supply. In a January
Eurobarometer survey, only 17 percent of Germans said that they believe
their government should prioritize nuclear energy development, compared with
27 percent in Finland, where construction began late last year on Europe's
first new nuclear reactor in decades.
Of the 24 nuclear power plants currently under construction worldwide, 18 of
those are located in Asia, according to the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA). China is planning to build 28 new reactors over the course of
the next few decades. India, meanwhile, has eight nuclear plants under
construction, and plans to expand its nationwide nuclear capacity 10-fold by
If Germany loses its position as a leader in the nuclear field, some worry
that could lead to a decline in the standard of nuclear engineering
worldwide, as safety and quality - the hallmarks of the German nuclear
industry - are sacrificed for faster pace and cheaper construction.
"Once German technology is replicated elsewhere, production and expertise
become cheaper," says Johannes Scharrer, a project manager at Westinghouse's
German subsidiary. "In China and India, they do not have the constraints of
the kind of safety standards we have in Germany, and the quality of
facilities will be worse."
Though in the minority among their classmates and compatriots, the young
scientists at the Osnabruck colloquia hope the national debate will become
less emotional and more rational.
"Maybe now that we have Chancellor Merkel, who was once a physicist, leading
the government, we can have a rational and scientific debate about nuclear
energy in Germany," said Christian Boggenberger, a physics student at
Munich's Technical University attending the job fair.