A worldwide shortage of mining and nuclear engineers is making some students at the University of Missouri-Rolla a hot commodity.
“I get two to three times more requests for nuclear engineering graduates than I can accommodate,” says Dr. Arvind Kumar, professor and assistant chair of mining and nuclear engineering at UMR.
In the United States, approximately 200 nuclear engineering students are preparing to earn degrees and enter the work force. But the nation currently needs about 350 nuclear engineers. Meanwhile, there is a similar shortage of engineers in the mining industry. UMR is among a relatively small group of universities that still produce such engineers. The lack of supply combined with a booming demand in both industries is getting UMR’s department of mining and nuclear engineering a lot of attention.
“Starting salaries for mining engineers are up $13,000 over the past two years,” says Dr. Larry Grayson, professor and chair of the mining and nuclear engineering department at UMR. “Our students are in the catbird’s seat.”
UMR’s mining and nuclear engineering graduates can expect several job offers with starting salaries of $50,000 or more. According to Grayson, employers value the students’ unique experiences at UMR, which operates its own nuclear reactor on campus and has an underground mine less than two miles away.
“If you don’t have a reactor and a mine, you can’t have hands-on programs,” Grayson says.
UMR is also proactive when it comes to recruiting new students, offering popular summer camps in nuclear engineering and explosives engineering (part of the mining engineering program) for high school students.
While UMR’s students are doing very well, Grayson is worried about the overall outlook for the mining and nuclear industries.
“Coal and nuclear energy account for 75 percent of the electricity generated in the United States,” says Grayson, adding that the nation has a supply of about 250 years of coal left. “You’ve got to have the human resources to keep these industries running, or the economy will suffer. The government realizes there’s a problem and it has to be addressed.”
More federal money is becoming available to support programs like the well-established ones at UMR, Grayson says, and that means more universities will try to get in the business of educating mining and nuclear engineers.
The United States has more nuclear power plants than any other country, but all of them were built in the 1970s.
“The world has recognized that we must move forward on nuclear energy,” says Kumar, citing recent comments by President Bush.
The mining and nuclear industries have both had poor images in the past, which is one reason why fewer students pursued related degrees and why fewer universities offered them.
Kumar points to misconceptions about the mushroom-shaped towers at nuclear plants as an example of the public’s attitudes. “People think they release radioactive waste,” he says, “but it’s clean energy; the towers release clean water and steam.
“Not all of our graduates go to work at a power plant,” Kumar adds. “In fact, most of them go to work for national laboratories, the U.S. Navy, the Department of Energy, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. They work on deep space probes and help fight cancer.”
The past image of the mining industry was that it compromised the environment, exploited workers, and that it was dangerous.
“We have made great strides in correcting that image,” Grayson says. “The environmental concerns have been mitigated through years of work, workers are paid better than ever, and modern mining is very safe.”