As described in the previous chapters, the committee found that experts in nuclear and radiochemistry comprise a range of disciplinary backgrounds and research interests, who provide capability in academic research and education, nuclear medicine, energy and power, national security, and environmental management. The committee also determined that the needs for nuclear and radiochemistry expertise are barely being met by current supply and that future needs may not be met by the supply projected given current trends. There are two principal reasons for the current and projected challenges in meeting the need for expertise: there is little nuclear and radiochemistry taught at the undergraduate and graduate level and there are too few graduate programs with more than a single nuclear or radiochemist to support education and workforce needs. Adding nuclear and radiochemistry to the core chemistry curriculum and including it in American Chemical Society degree accreditation criteria would be of tremendous benefit for both understanding and redressing the gap between supply and demand for the field.
The committee found that the annual production of Ph.D.s and the number of faculty members in nuclear and radiochemistry appear to have stabilized after the steadily decreasing numbers reported over the past several decades. But the continuation of these trends is not assured. In addition, the capacity to track nuclear and radiochemistry expertise is limited and so it is difficult to accurately assess and predict personnel needs.
The committee commends the current and past efforts of federal agencies to support nuclear and radiochemistry workforce education and development. One excellent example is the long-standing Department of Energy (DOE)-sponsored Summer Schools in Nuclear and Radiochemistry, which have been in place since 1984 and have recently been duplicated by the Department of Homeland Security with a focus in forensics and by ACTINET in Europe, and have helped supplement inadequacies of undergraduate chemistry education. However, the various initiatives have been largely
created independently by different federal funding agencies each with a slightly different emphasis on outcome. Thus, there exists a great potential for gaps in funding between the various parts of the academic pipeline, and there is no comprehensive plan to address academic pipeline issues. Furthermore, as with most science funding, it is not clear that currently favorable federal funding levels will continue, despite the critical role of nuclear and radiochemistry in national security and environmental protection. Faculty positions are supported by universities if there is sustained research funding to build and maintain robust programs. Sustained support by one or more of the agencies with basic research and development programs is essential to maintain interest, explore the wealth of exciting and relevant research problems, and provide the major equipment and facilities.
Based on its findings, the committee presents the following recommendations for action that both the public and private sectors can take to ensure an adequate supply of nuclear and radiochemistry expertise in the future.
The committee’s recommendations call for action in three main areas of need:
• Institutional: structural support and collaboration
• Educational: on-the-job training and knowledge transfer and retention
• Workforce Data: data collection and tracking of workforce
1. Formalized collaborative partnerships for research and education in nuclear and radiochemistry should be established between universities, national laboratories, and relevant industrial sectors. Given the relatively small population of nuclear and radiochemists in the United States, it is essential to strengthen the connections between current experts and those who will supply and will need expertise in the future. The committee recommends that the federal agencies that depend on nuclear and radiochemistry expertise—including but not limited to those that funded this study (DHS, DOE, and NSF)—provide the necessary stewardship to ensure its sustainability. Specifically, beyond the individual programs discussed in Chapter 9, the committee recommends the establishment of multiple partnerships1 between the larger nuclear
1 The committee suggests four to six partnerships, roughly based on the specialty (focal) areas in nuclear and radiochemistry (medicine, energy and power, security, environmental
and radiochemistry programs at universities and national laboratories, and the programs of 2- and 4-year colleges, research institutes, medical facilities, and industry. The goals of such partnerships would be to ensure an adequate supply of faculty, staff, students, and postdoctoral fellows to satisfy both current and future professional and academic needs; provide experimental and theoretical facilities; bring the most capable new people into the field; and maintain a position of international leadership in nuclear and radiochemistry.
These partnerships should be a national resource for a well-educated and well-trained workforce in basic and applied nuclear and radiochemical disciplines to meet future demand in all relevant areas of research and application. Coordination among the partnerships will be essential to create a coherent national program to achieve these goals. The partnerships should:
• Maintain international leadership in the most critical areas of basic nuclear and radiochemistry to support the U.S. missions that require this expertise.
• Attract and educate exceptionally capable students to support and advance the knowledge base in nuclear medicine, nuclear power, national security, and environmental stewardship.
• Offer a focused summer school for undergraduates at the junior and senior level.
• Provide support to or collaborate with university chemistry departments that seek expertise in nuclear and radiochemistry, but lack resources to provide additional coursework, operate specialized facilities, or hire new faculty to meet their needs.
• Collaborate in the education of 2- and 4-year college faculty to enable:
Preparation of modular educational materials for high schools and colleges that include both class and laboratory work that can be used for distance learning (e.g., webcasts) to compensate for the lack of instructors with sufficient expertise to teach such a course at most institutions.
Outreach from undergraduate and top-tier graduate institutions to the K-12 community and to student populations such as those at 2-year colleges through the use of these materials and distance learning.
management, and basic science) and the number of national laboratories that could provide a foundation of infrastructure and expertise. The national laboratories are geographically widely distributed and have expertise in different areas of nuclear and radiochemistry.
2. To meet short-term workforce needs, resources and expertise should be made available to support on-the-job training in national laboratories, industry, and elsewhere. Educational programs are needed to develop experts in nuclear and radiochemistry for critical and time-sensitive jobs. In many of the relevant employment sectors, required “specialists” or on-the-job training—whether for new B.S. degree holders or midcareer scientists changing fields—cannot be met by the traditional academic system, because of the immediacy of the need or the nature of the work (e.g., classified). Other types of strong educational programs are needed to supply this kind of training. The committee suggests the partnerships described above as a mechanism for effective on-the-job training.
3. To ensure that long-term critical workforce needs can be met, federal agencies should identify and prioritize urgent requirements for, and fund efforts to ensure, knowledge transfer and retention. Given the large number of specialized nuclear and radiochemistry experts who are eligible to retire within the next 5 to 10 years, a process is necessary to minimize the impact of losing many years of experience in a short period of time. Federal agencies should develop procedures to formalize the knowledge transfer and retention process, especially at the national laboratories.
Workforce Data Needs
4. A federal source of supply and demand data for nuclear and radiochemistry expertise should be available. An appropriate federal agency should establish a program or system to gather and track the metrics necessary to assess supply and demand and to measure any changes resulting from government and academic efforts to improve the sustainability of the human capital pipeline in nuclear and radiochemistry. At a minimum, nuclear chemistry should once again be tracked through the National Science Foundation (NSF) Survey of Earned Doctorates or another federally funded data collection service. The NSF Division of Statistics, Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, and Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics should be called on to assist federal agencies in determining additional suitable metrics for tracking the quantity and quality of nuclear and radiochemistry expertise.
In closing, based on the state of research funding and the academic pipeline, the committee is not very optimistic about the projected state of nuclear and radiochemistry expertise. If trends in funding and academic support continue (including reliance on personnel without expertise in nuclear and radiochemistry and increasing dependence on the use of on-the-job training to cover shortfalls in properly trained personnel), the projected supply of U.S. nuclear and radiochemistry expertise will barely meet basic demands for at least the next 5 years (Table 8-3). The small size of the expertise pool makes it fragile and vulnerable; it should be supported in a more coordinated and strategic manner than it is currently. Furthermore, should there be major funding cuts, policy changes, or world events, the U.S. supply of nuclear and radiochemistry expertise will be inadequate.