Need a bigger nuclear workforce? Aiming for gender balance will help, says NEA

June 14, 2023, 9:46AMNuclear News
(Image: OECD NEA)

Deploying new reactors on the scale required to meet U.S. and international zero-carbon goals by 2050 will require rapid growth in the nuclear workforce, as American Nuclear Society executive director/chief executive officer Craig Piercy emphasized during his opening plenary address at the ANS Annual Meeting on June 12. Piercy pointed to the Department of Energy’s Pathways to Commercial Liftoff: Advanced Nuclear, which estimates that an additional 375,000 people will be required to construct and operate 200 GW of advanced nuclear reactors by 2050—a dramatic increase from about 100,000 today. Where will those engineers, constructors, and operators be found? The 38 nations of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development agreed last week to a new recommendation from the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) that points to one way to increase the nuclear workforce: increase the number of women participating in the workforce.

“The persistent gender gap in the nuclear sector impacts the future viability of nuclear energy around the world,” said William D. Magwood IV, OECD NEA director general. “The NEA made it a priority to move beyond simply discussing the issue and to work with its member countries to develop a focused and specific policy framework to make a real difference to improve the gender balance in the nuclear sector. We expect to see that a broad range of organizations stand ready to work with governments to implement these policy recommendations.”

The recommendations: OECD nations have agreed to a recommendation that encourages governments to attract more women to the nuclear sector and develop more female leaders during the 2023 Meeting of the OECD Council at Ministerial Level, held June 7–8 in Paris, France. According to the OECD, the “new, focused approach to improve the gender balance in the nuclear sector” calls on nations and industry to take action to increase the representation of women in the sector, “especially in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) roles and leadership positions.”

The new recommendation focuses on removing barriers to gender-based impacts and barriers to entry and advancement in the nuclear field. For example, the recommendation encourages gender neutral hiring practices to “identify and eliminate gender-based barriers and to improve gender balance in recruitment and hiring,” including by using “best practices in gender-neutral job announcement language and hiring criteria” and implementing “the use of gender-neutral selection criteria, and application reviews and selection panels with improved gender balance.”

The full text of the Recommendation of the Council on Improving the Gender Balance in the Nuclear Sector is available online.

NEA has data: The OECD NEA organized a Gender Balance Task Group that released a report—Gender Balance in the Nuclear Sectoron March 8, which contains the first publicly available international data on the topic, gathered by polling over 8,000 women in the nuclear workforce in 32 countries.

The task group learned that women currently make up on average 20 percent of the nuclear science and engineering workforce in NEA member countries and represent a smaller fraction of upper management. NEA analyses have concluded that nuclear energy production needs to triple by 2050 to make global net zero emissions aims achievable, and to do this, “the nuclear sector must grow and diversify its workforce, but this will be extremely difficult unless it attracts more women.”

Fiona Rayment, chief science and technology officer of the U.K. National Nuclear Laboratory, chaired the NEA Task Group that oversaw the work. “Nuclear power is primed to enable our energy security and net zero commitments to be realized, however, this requires recruitment and retention of a highly diverse workforce,” Rayment said. “As such, I am absolutely delighted to see the policy instrument on gender balance has been adopted by the OECD. This builds on the hard work and dedication of the NEA Gender Balance Task Group members, which will have a real impact on improving wider diversity ambitions across the nuclear sector internationally as we look ahead to the future.”

U.S. statement: The United States issued a separate statement, noting that “The United States strongly supports this recommendation, recognizing every citizen has the right and opportunity, without distinction, to take part in the conduct of public affairs. . . . This is equally true in the nuclear sector, but equally qualified women have historically been underrepresented in this important sector.

“The United States intends to implement this recommendation in good faith. Nonetheless, the United States would call attention to the fact that the U.S. Constitution and laws also provide for equal protection under the law. Therefore, in most circumstances, U.S. law prohibits providing a preference for any specific gender in hiring and other decisions. . . . The best way to improve the situation of women and girls is through legal and policy reforms that end discrimination and promote and provide equal access to opportunities.”


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