Natural Resources

Bill to address nuclear, hydrogen workforce needs considered

The Natural Resources Committee heard testimony Feb. 16 on a measure that would require the state Department of Economic Development to create a work group to determine the workforce training needs of the nuclear and hydrogen industries.

Sen. Bruce Bostelman
Sen. Bruce Bostelman

Brainard Sen. Bruce Bostelman, sponsor of LB568, said the work group would collaborate with Nebraska’s community and state colleges to develop coursework and programs that would make the state a leader in nuclear and hydrogen industry training.

Testifying in support of the bill was David Madcharo, energy generation operations program director at Southeast Community College. He said companies around the country are seeking to partner with states to train the next generation of workers needed to operate advanced nuclear reactors and fill other critical infrastructure jobs.

“I think this is a golden opportunity for us to step forward,” Madcharo said.

Amy Ostermeyer of Monolith also testified in support of LB568. She said the company, which uses electricity to turn natural gas into carbon black and hydrogen at a plant near Hallam, plans to begin construction on a second plant in Nebraska next year and needs more highly skilled workers, including engineers, operations managers, plant operators and software developers.

“This important bill will provide the resources and collaboration that is needed to sustain and grow Nebraska’s position on the forefront of the hydrogen and nuclear industries,” Ostermeyer said.

Also in support was Ross McConnell, president of DZ Atlantic, which provides maintenance and construction services to many of the country’s nuclear plants, including Cooper Nuclear Station near Brownville. He said the country faces a “critical” shortage of skilled craft workers such as carpenters, pipefitters and welders.

“Workforce development efforts like these proposed in this bill will build a valuable pool of skilled labor right here in Nebraska and will connect those trained residents to plentiful, good-paying and flexible careers,” he said.

Tom Kent testified in support of LB568 on behalf of the Nebraska Public Power District and the Nebraska Power Association. He said the shortage of qualified workers recently forced NPPD to leave Cooper Nuclear Station offline for longer than planned during refueling.

Additionally, Kent said, NPPD is researching the possibility of incorporating small modular nuclear reactors into its electricity generation fleet and is leading an effort to make Nebraska a regional hydrogen hub under a U.S. Department of Energy program.

“To ensure Nebraska is prepared to meet the demand for employees to fill jobs in these promising fields, industry and education institutions must work together to develop the necessary programs and curriculum to train these employees,” he said.

No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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