By Brian Schimmoller, Contributing Editor
Nuclear power plant staffing is complicated by tension between maintaining sufficient manpower to meet regulatory and operational requirements and responding to downward pressure on operations and maintenance costs. The current economic situation adds another element of complexity: with electricity sales dropping in many parts of the country, pressure to reduce headcount has already been felt in certain markets.
I recently discussed nuclear power staffing trends with Chuck Goodnight of Goodnight Consulting, which provides management consulting services focused on workforce planning, staffing benchmarking and organizational analysis. Goodnight Consulting’s recently completed annual staffing survey reflects data from 87 percent of the U.S. nuclear plant sites and 89 percent of operating reactors.
Schimmoller: Can you share some of the overall staffing trends from the 2008 survey?
Goodnight: After a steady decline in average staffing from about 1997 to 2004, levels have flattened out in recent years. Average staffing increased only marginally between 2007 and 2008, at a rate of 0.25 percent. While some plants made significant reductions after having higher than average staffing in recent years, others have been hiring to offset actual and impending losses to attrition. That attrition has been driven by retirement eligibility; demand for new build; and demand from vendors, regulators and component suppliers.
Schimmoller: What differences are evident between single-unit sites and multi-unit sites?
Goodnight: Average staffing levels decreased slightly for two-unit plants, from 1,104 in 2007 to 1,086 in 2008, a 1.8 percent drop. At single-unit plants, average staffing increased from 752 in 2007 to 758 in 2008, a 0.8 percent rise. A more useful comparison, however, is total plant staffing per unit of electric capacity. The average two-unit metric for 2008 remained at 0.58 personnel per MWe, while the metric for single-unit plants increased from 0.92/MWe in 2007 to 0.94/MWe in 2008. Total plant staffing includes all site employees, corporate nuclear support personnel, and long-term contractors.
Schimmoller: Is there a great deal of variation in the data?
Goodnight: Staffing variations for two-unit plants are much larger than those for single-unit plants. The data range in staffing levels for two-unit plants is 894 personnel, with 12 plants more than 100 personnel below the industry average, nine plants more than 100 personnel above the industry average and eight plants within 100 personnel of the industry average. For single-unit plants, the range is 524, and 16 of the 28 reporting plants were within 100 of the industry average. The data reveal a strong correlation between plant size and total staffing levels for single-unit plants, with smaller plants having lower staffing and larger plants having correspondingly higher staffing.
Schimmoller: How do fleet staffing levels compare to stand-alone staffing levels?
Goodnight: Not surprisingly, staffing levels at plants operating within a fleet model are lower than those not part of a fleet. Average two-unit fleet staffing levels are 166 personnel below the average level for two-unit stand-alone plants, a 14 percent difference. For single units operating in a fleet, average staffing levels are 174 personnel below the average level for single units not part of a fleet, a 20 percent gap. This difference reflects the move to standardized staffing models within fleets. Several fleets, for example, now have one-unit or two-unit standardized organizational structures with defined staffing levels. Some variations are permitted, including differences for radiation protection organizations at boiling water reactors compared to pressurized water reactors in the same fleet.
Schimmoller: Speaking of boiling and pressurized water reactors, how do staffing levels differ in these two categories?
Goodnight: PWR staffing levels continue to be higher than BWR staffing levels, attributed to the more complex design of PWR plants and the higher associated staffing levels in plant engineering, modifications engineering, training and maintenance and construction. Average staffing levels at two-unit BWRs is 97 personnel lower, or almost 10 percent, than staffing levels at two-unit PWRs. The difference at single-unit plants is much smaller, only 32 personnel, or 4.3 percent.
Schimmoller: Do you expect these trends to hold as the industry moves to advanced designs such as GE Hitachi’s ESBWR, Areva’s EPR and Westinghouse’s AP1000?
Goodnight: Since these plants aren’t yet in operation, I can’t speak to any specific data, but because of the simplification of the Generation III+ designs, I do expect total staff and staff/MWe to be lower than current designs.
Schimmoller: Do you expect an impact on staffing as a result of the fitness for duty rules from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission?
Goodnight: Yes. We have recently completed a compensation and benefits analysis for a nuclear client that included information about overtime levels. In some cases, the overtime levels were significantly above industry average levels. Several companies have already indicated to us that the forthcoming NRC work rules will cause them to increase staffing levels to compensate for the expected reductions in maximum overtime levels.
Beginning in June, Nuclear Reactions becomes a monthly feature of Power Engineering magazine. Brian Schimmoller and Nancy Spring bring you analysis and insight into the nuclear power industry. For archived Nuclear Reactions, visit www.power-eng.com and use our online search tool.