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(Town of Rock) - By Katherine Kruger, Gazette

Blackhawk Technical College is rolling out a new program to train nuclear technicians for the upcoming fall semester, but officials are touting the program as a partnership between technical schools rather than one forged with SHINE Medical Technologies.

Vice President for Learning Diane Nyhammer said academic planners started charting the degree program because nuclear medicine is “a growing field,” with a need for skilled workers in the Janesville area in coming years. News of two nuclear medicine companies opening in the county also prompted interest in starting the program, she said.

Officials said the program will prepare students for careers in a number of fields, nuclear medicine and environmental safety among them.

“The employment possibilities are many,” Nyhammer said. “Part of it is anticipating the arrival of SHINE and their need for trained technicians … Part of the reason for offering the program this fall is making sure the time frame lined up with SHINE’s (opening).”

In an email to the Gazette, Blackhawk spokesperson Gary Kohn flatly denied the timing of the program’s rollout was related to SHINE or Northstar Medical Radioisotopes, which plans to set up shop in Beloit.

SHINE, a Middleton-based nuclear medicine company, is working toward regulatory approval to build an $85 million production plant on Janesville’s south side. If all goes as planned, SHINE would be producing the medical isotopes used in medical diagnostic tests by 2016 and would hire 150 people.

The associate degree program, which is a partnership with Lakeshore Technical College in Cleveland, Wis., takes four semesters to complete, so the first graduates will be ready for employment in 2015.

Students will take 32 credits of general education and some program-specific courses with traditional in-person classes at Blackhawk and then finish the degree with interactive online courses facilitated by Lakeshore. The program can also help students leverage transferring into another related program at a four-year college, Nyhammer said.

A release from Blackhawk called nuclear technicians “one of the most rapidly expanding technical fields in the United States,” one the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects to grow by 14 percent by 2020. The jobs are also high-paying: median pay for nuclear technicians is $68,000 per year or about $32 an hour, according to the release.

SHINE President Greg Piefer previously said company representatives were routinely meeting with Blackhawk staff to develop a tailored curriculum that would provide highly trained workers for the plant.

Because Lakeshore already has a successful nuclear technician education program up and running, Nyhammer said, it was not difficult to get the program ready for this fall. Sharing resources with Lakeshore means the collaboration can work long term, and she does not anticipate bringing the full program under Blackhawk’s roof in the near future.

“This helps us get it going sooner rather than later. (It’s) also a matter of efficiency,” she said.

Nyhammer said she was unaware whether Blackhawk staff members had met with leaders at NorthStar.

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