A Republican legislator is backing a plan that would teach middle and high school students about nuclear power, with the goal of funneling more young people into high-paying nuclear energy jobs.
Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, told the House Technology Committee on Wednesday the nuclear industry is struggling to fill jobs that pay an average salary of $85,000 a year.
“We really need to educate kids that this is a different type of nuclear. It’s not your father’s nuclear anymore. It’s next generation and it’s a lot more safe,” Brown said.
But critics of the measure say schools shouldn’t single out a source of energy above others without also discussing potential negative health impacts.
Senate Bill 5093 creates a nuclear energy education program for students in 8th through 12th grade, administered by the Washington State University Energy Program. It would partner with the American Nuclear Society, which provides classroom materials and training for teachers.
Representatives from Physicians for Social Responsibility oppose the bill, citing health concerns.
“I think there are many young people who are very concerned about having a sustainable energy future that is not toxic to themselves and their children,” said Mary Hanson, who represents the Washington chapter of the group.
Chuck Johnson, speaking on behalf of the Oregon chapter, said he was concerned about the role of the American Nuclear Society in shaping the educational material. “Having them as a gatekeeper is very problematic,” he said.
If the bill passes, Johnson suggested adding a public health educator who could discuss health concerns associated with nuclear power.
Energy Northwest, which operates the Columbia Generating Station nuclear power plant, supports the effort and says some of its 1,000 employees could play a role as “nuclear ambassadors” to the program.
Jim Gaston of Energy Northwest said the company could help “bring knowledge to the kids and understanding of the well paying jobs in nuclear technology.”