UNLV researchers are part of a team that will receive nearly $3 million in federal funding for a project focused on the nuclear energy workforce.
The Department of Energy last week announced more than $61 million in scholarships for 74 projects for technology development, infrastructure improvements and career opportunities at about 40 universities.
“These awards are an investment in both the next generation of nuclear technology and the next generation of scientists and engineers,” US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a press release. “With DOE funding, universities across our nation will drive innovation and continue to lead us toward our zero-carbon future.”
UNLV radiochemistry professor Ken Czerwinski, who has been at the university since 2004, is the principal investigator of a three-year, $2.96 million project.
“A big part will be doing a gap analysis to understand what the manpower is needed for future nuclear development,” he said.
One of the goals is to develop an understanding of the labor needs of those who build reactors and how the education system can help, Czerwinski said.
UNLV is one of only a dozen universities in the country with a radiochemistry program, which focuses on the study of radioactive elements, where students can earn a doctorate, he said, noting that This is a unique niche.
The university’s program also has the infrastructure for students to perform experiments that universities would often need to go to a national lab for, Czerwinski said.
Regarding the funded project, he said it was exciting that it involved other disciplines at UNLV, including non-scientific areas such as public policy.
Project collaborators include Alexander Barzilov, professor of mechanical engineering at UNLV; Jaewon Lim, associate professor of public policy and leadership at UNLV; Morgan State University in Baltimore; University of Maryland; NuScale power; and Impact Allies for research and evaluation.
The gap analysis will focus on the country as a whole, but “it really comes down to localized areas,” Czerwinski said, and what local entities can do to try to fill those gaps.
It will also look at how to develop a K-to-College pipeline to help develop a workforce, as well as educational content development.
And the project will seek to better understand labor supply and demand, including the role played by competing sectors, Czerwinski said.
There are people who have technical skills, “but there are a lot of other jobs they can go into,” he said.
It’s also worth noting that as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Czerwinski said, “a lot of the demand for workers and the supply has really changed.”