Research & Development

Report Warns Of ‘Substantial Challenges’ Facing UK On Nuclear Workforce

By David Dalton
24 March 2015

24 Mar (NucNet): Attrition rates in the UK’s ageing nuclear workforce are “high and growing” with more than 8,000 new employees a year needed every year for the next six years if the country’s ambitious new-build programme is to succeed, a government report says.

The report, ‘Sustaining Our Nuclear Skills’, warns of “substantial challenges” that must be overcome if the UK is to meet its targets for new nuclear reactors and the decommissioning of redundant ones.

It says the nuclear industry’s own research forecasts that the workforce must grow by 4,700 people a year over the next six years. But over the same period 3,900 people a year are expected to leave the sector, mostly due to retirement. This means that the sector must recruit 8,600 people every year.

The report says that for the first time in decades, the UK’s nuclear sector is set to expand. The government has begun an ambitious programme to build up to five or more civil nuclear reactors by 2030, while at the same time carrying out a large programme of decommissioning work.

Over almost the same period, the Ministry of Defence will develop the Successor nuclear submarine class. These programmes, coupled with the UK’s extensive existing nuclear operations, will drive an expansion of the nuclear workforce from 70,000 to 98,000 by 2021.

The UK’s existing expertise lies primarily in the operation and decommissioning of nuclear stations rather than construction. It will need to reskill workers or attract new skills to meet the changing workforce profile.

A shortage of skilled workers will create competition for specialist skills, pushing up labour prices. “This threatens to increase the cost of critical national projects and potentially raise the UK’s reliance on foreign expertise for civil projects,” the report says.

In 2013, the government, in partnership with industry, published the Nuclear Industrial Strategy (NIS), which identified priorities and set the strategic direction for collaborative action on skills. But since then the nuclear landscape has changed, the report says. “At the same time, the NIC’s [Nuclear Industry Council’s] work on skills has clarified the skill challenges in the sector.”

The NIS target is to meet 90 percent of the sector’s skill demands from the UK workforce and to ensure the workforce’s expertise is “unsurpassed globally” by developing training, development and certification programmes. The strategy also calls for a more diverse nuclear workforce, including by increasing the proportion of the sector’s workforce who are women.

As part of this work, the government, in partnership with industry, is developing two flagship initiatives. The National College for Nuclear will offer industry-agreed curricula for nuclear skills and the Career Path for Nuclear, when developed, will offer new nuclear workers the opportunity to experience different roles and give them greater freedom to transfer between positions.

Nuclear power provided 19 percent of the UK’s electricity from 16 commercial nuclear reactors across the UK in 2013, but almost all of these units are scheduled to reach the end of their lives by 2030.

The industry has set out plans to deliver 16 gigawatts of new nuclear power by 2030. The proposals call for at least 11 new nuclear reactors at five sites: Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C (both developed by EDF subsidiary NNB Genco); Wylfa Newydd and Oldbury (Horizon Nuclear Power); and Moorside (NuGen). The development of further sites may follow, the report says.

The report is online:

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