As speculation continues that the government’s energy review will recommend retaining the capability to build further nuclear power stations, the DTI has launched a wide-ranging programme to ensure the UK has the necessary expertise to meet such an eventuality.
The DTI’s Nuclear Skills Group is conducting a three-part exercise, the first part of which consists of an audit of the UK nuclear industry’s present-day capabilities. It is designed to identify personnel shortfalls among research scientists, chartered engineers, technicians and mechanics and will be completed by the end of April.
The initiative follows warnings such as that in last year’s joint report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and Nuclear Energy Agency, about a decline in nuclear education and training. The UK’s Nuclear Installations Inspectorate has been unable to recruit the numbers needed and is still 19 inspectors short of its desired complement of 179. A recent recruitment drive netted five, who will take up their posts in the next three months.
In parallel with the audit, the group is also running an exercise to project what the industry’s requirements are likely to be in 10-15 years’ time. Tony Coverdale, the Royal Navy commander who is heading the initiative for the DTI, said this second exercise was taking into account possibilities ranging ‘from early closure of the UK nuclear industry to an upturn’.
However, Coverdale said that even if the energy review concluded that no more nuclear plants should be built in the UK, the decommissioning of existing facilities and the treatment and disposal of radioactive waste would necessitate a certain skills base in the industry for several decades.