PASCO -- Columbia Basin College will expand its nuclear technology curriculum with the help of a $100,000 grant from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The money, paired with a match from CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co., will be used to develop radiological protection technology classes to educate students as health physics technicians.
"A $100,000 grant to start a program is a huge deal to us," said CBC President Rich Cummins. State money favors existing programs and money for current programs has been cut.
The radiological protection technology program is the second program being planned in the college's nuclear technology degree offering, which enrolled its first class of 45 students in fall 2009.
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Initially, a curriculum was developed for a two-year associate's degree in nuclear technology with an instrumentation and control option. Those graduates are qualified for jobs in nuclear operations.
The grant will allow students, including those who have just completed their first year of core classes, also to choose a two-year degree program with an emphasis in radiological protection.
Graduates from both programs will be in demand at Washington River Protection Solutions, said Dom Sansotta, the Hanford contractor's manager of work force resources.
It created its own training program in 2009 when it needed to find more health physics technicians, already in demand across the nation, as federal economic stimulus money ramped up environmental cleanup work at Hanford. The jobs started at about $20 an hour.
The CBC program will educate workers for its future, particularly as Hanford's vitrification plant to treat high-level radioactive waste begins operating.
"The need is great in nuclear power and for remediation at Hanford," said Derek Brandes, CBC dean of career and technical education. "The average age of workers is 55."
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has received applications for 18 new nuclear power projects, some with more than one reactor. But with little nuclear development in the United States in decades, the nation has skipped a generation of skilled nuclear workers, leaving the staffing of the planned plants uncertain.
Graduates of the two-year program can go to work immediately, can continue at CBC to earn a bachelor's of applied science in management or transfer to a four-year nuclear program, such as the one at Oregon State University, Cummins said.
CBC will be hiring a full-time faculty member to develop the curriculum for radiological protection technology.
It plans to continue applying for NRC grants to develop a total of five nuclear technology degree options. The NRC already has given CBC $240,000 for scholarships for students over the past two years.
CBC has estimated the cost of the nuclear technology program at about$2.1 million over five years. With no state money available, CBC has planned to pay for half of the program with the support of companies doing business in the Tri-City area and the rest with tuition and grants from agencies such as the NRC.
Companies that have pledged to support the program with cash, equipment, scholarships, internships or other contributions include: Energy Northwest, which owns the nuclear plant near Richland; Battelle, the contractor for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland; and Hanford contractors Washington River Protection Solutions, CH2M Hill and Mission Support Alliance.
But CBC's long-term strategy is to apply to have the college designated a nuclear center of excellence. That would require support of the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges and then approval by the Legislature.
"If we get the designation, we get high demand dollars from the state and also connect nationally" with other programs, Cummins said. "We want to be a player in energy education."