More than half of all electricity produced in Ontario comes from nuclear power. It keeps our lights on, it heats our homes in the winter, it keeps our food cold in the refrigerator, and it even charges our green electric cars. Though wind, solar, biomass, and natural gas make up a growing portion of the supply mix, the largest share of baseload generation will, for economic, environmental, and practical reasons, remain nuclear for the foreseeable future.

“Canada’s nuclear industry is vital to Canada, and especially Ontario,” says Preston Swafford, Chief Executive Officer and President of Candu Energy Inc. “As a thriving industry, we employ about 60,000 people in well-paying, well-respected jobs.” These workers are employed in operation, maintenance, decommissioning, and refurbishment of Canada’s nuclear fleet. But this direct reliance is only one side of the coin when discussing the importance of nuclear power in Canada.

Canada: A natural nuclear leader

Canada drives the cutting edge of nuclear globally, with AECL’s (Atomic Energy of Canada Limited) research and Candu Energy’s technology being both historical and present-day world leaders. Canadian-built reactors are used in countries worldwide. As a result of these exports and foreign contracts, Canada’s nuclear industry is much larger than the demand for nuclear power within Canada alone.

“Canada’s nuclear industry is vital to Canada, and especially Ontario.”

“We are working very closely with Argentine and Romanian utilities now on potential new build projects,” says Swafford. Either one of those projects would potentially inject several billion dollars directly into the Canadian economy. Significantly, Canada is also the world’s largest producer of the uranium ores which power these reactors, with remaining reserves estimated to be the third largest in the world after only Australia and Kazakhstan.

The nuclear workforce: More diverse than you might think

Considering a career in the nuclear industry is a solid decision for any student in Canada, not just those in science and engineering. “We have PhD scientists, we’ve got engineers of almost every discipline, we’ve got highly trained operating positions, mechanical trade and construction jobs,” says Ron Oberth, President Organization of Canadian Nuclear Industries. “It’s a whole breadth of roles, and those of course are supported by other roles like finance, communications, human resources, and many others.”

With an aging workforce and baby boomers retiring en masse, there are opportunities for new workers in all these fields. Oberth indicates that some specialties are undergoing particular growth as technology advances, including cybersecurity, information technology, and especially control system design. “A pump built now looks much like a pump designed when the plants were brought into service fifty or sixty years ago, but the new digital control panels look very different from the analog control plants used in the original designs,” he explains.

“We have PhD scientists, we’ve got engineers of almost every discipline, we’ve got highly trained operating positions, mechanical trade and construction jobs.”

A nuclear education

Unsurprisingly, there is a demand for focused education in Nuclear Engineering, particularly at the graduate level. The University Network of Excellence in Nuclear Engineering (UNENE) is a non-profit dedicated to ensuring that Canada remains the world leader in both nuclear theory and practise. As one of its primary initiatives, UNENE supports and funds nuclear research at universities across the country. “The support of research in universities is a key means of ensuring the availability of highly qualified personnel for the nuclear industry,” says UNENE President Basma Shalaby.

UNENE, along with its research program, offers a Master’s Degree (M. Eng) in Nuclear Engineering, in association with a number of accredited universities in Ontario to foster industry excellence. Designed primarily for professionals already working in the industry, the courses are offered on weekends and are available via telepresence technology for those unable to attend class. Employers within the industry specifically recognize the benefits of this degree when filling positions. About 100 professionals have graduated to date.

A rewarding and fulfilling career

A career in the nuclear industry may not be the first that most young people consider, but they are doing themselves a disservice if they don’t consider it at all. Nuclear power is vital to our day-to-day lives in Ontario, it plays a key role in Canada’s greater economy, and it remains a fascinating technology.

“It’s a very fulfilling career,” Shalaby emphasizes. “If you survey people who have worked in the nuclear industry,” adds Oberth, “you will find that very few leave the industry early. In fact many people stay on and work past their usual retirement age because they really love what they do.”

It’s hard to find a job with a stronger endorsement than that.