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Tennessee governor Bill Lee, surrounded by various administrators from the University of Tennessee, signs a declaration for the Tennessee Nuclear Energy Advisory Council on UT's campus.

Advisory Council Role Puts Hines on Forefront of Tennessee Nuclear Energy Planning

Nuclear engineering Department Head Wes Hines shares a vital leadership role on the Tennessee Nuclear Energy Advisory Council, recently established by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee.

Hines is co-chair on the council’s Education/Workforce Work Group, along with Loong Yong, president and owner of Oak Ridge-based company Spectra Tech. The committee also includes alumnus H.M. “Hash” Hashemian, president and CEO of AMS Corporation and an adjunct professor in nuclear engineering.

“Being on the council allows me to see the gaps and challenges to bringing more nuclear industry to Tennessee,” said Hines. “We are providing advice to make strategic investments to better support the state’s growing nuclear industry.”

Lee created the council with an executive order on May 16, 2023, to advance the state’s position as a national leader in nuclear energy. The initiative builds on a legacy in nuclear innovation and seeks to drive continued investment into a nuclear energy ecosystem for the future of Tennessee. The council is supported through $50 million Nuclear Fund in the state’s Fiscal Year 2023-2024 budget.

Within this work group, Hines and colleagues address expectations for the future nuclear energy workforce in the state, identifying potential gaps and forming plans to fill them as nuclear industry grows.

“If we bring more nuclear companies into the state, what’s the workforce need?” said Hines. “That’s a tough one, because you don’t know exactly who’s going to come. You don’t know if it’s going to be suppliers, maybe for TVA’s small modular reactor (SMR) build out. You don’t know if it’ll be a fusion energy company that’s doing more R&D. You don’t know if it would be an SMR company itself. They would all have different workforce needs.”

Potential educational growth could be in the trade schools, community colleges, or in universities.

“It’s kind of the gamut,” said Hines. “We look at that as ‘grow your own.’ But it could be that we have to lure people in from other states to come to Tennessee and do the construction. It’s recruiting—we look at livability. We’re in East Tennessee, it’s a great place to live.”

The group looks at inputs that would enhance the livability factor with offerings that would engage and retain the workforce.

“You have to have students and eager, knowledgeable people in the pipeline,” said Hines. “The people may need financial support if they need education. So, what are the inputs for financial support, state support loans, scholarships. Employers might support their own employees to go back and get retrained.”

The Tickle College of Engineering and other regional colleges and universities offer a foundation of qualified faculty and facilities to develop and run programs that would bolster this expected educational need.

“Tennessee has a strong history and legacy in nuclear technologies,” said Hines. “But we still need to better communicate the advantages of clean nuclear energy to the community, especially K-12, to engage graduates into rewarding nuclear careers.”

To gain even more perspective on workforce needs, Hines invites an array of speakers to the work group’s weekly meetings to bring new ideas and potential solutions to the table. The influx and analysis of data has helped them add valuable insight to their own area of expertise.

“We fleshed it out quite a bit,” said Hines. “By getting everybody together, thinking about it, we’re learning from each other. We’re learning from outsiders who are coming and talking to us. And I think we’re getting more focused on what we really want to do.”

The workforce group will offer a report on their findings in December, with a final report moving forward in August 2024.


Randall Brown (865-974-0533,