Civil nuclear energy sector – A world of opportunities to grow skills 

Dale Edwards, Consultant Specialist, Clarke Willmott is passionate about preparing our next generation of workers to upskill those already in work. Here, he shares his thoughts about how the civil nuclear energy sector is full of opportunities

Worldwide investment in new nuclear is set to hit a staggering £930 billion across the next 20 years, with potentially 12 new reactors planned for the UK alone. Add to this, a growing decommissioning portfolio in the UK, the development of small modular nuclear reactors along with the delivery of the Dreadnought class nuclear submarines, the result is a huge surge of nuclear investment that is predicted to create up to 100,000 jobs over the next couple of decades. The UK is entering a new and transformative stage in nuclear history, which has the opportunity of providing unprecedented opportunities for new skills, particularly as the UK has not built a new nuclear power station in over a generation. 

The UK civil nuclear industry currently employs over 63,000 people across a diverse spectrum of disciplines, to manage the existing fleet of nuclear power plants with the figure growing particularly due to EDF Energy and their partners CGN building Hinkley Point C.

Over the period of construction, there will be 25,000 valuable job opportunities created, from ancillary site operation roles including accommodation, transport and security through to mechanical, electrical, heating and ventilation engineers, with many skills being transferable into different sectors.  

Taking engineering as an example, it is a wide and rapidly developing sector covering many general and specialist engineering disciplines. Those students choosing an HND in General Engineering can then specialise with further study and work experience in a variety of fields including design, installation, commissioning and decommissioning, research, lean manufacturing, and robotics to name but a few career paths.  

EDF Energy was very clear when they submitted applications for the new power station at Hinkley Point, for the need to recruit new people into the industry and committed to working alongside major contractors and recruit 1,000 new apprentices. During the first two years of construction of Hinkley Point C, EDF Energy has made great strides, recruiting over 350 apprentices. This is in addition to supporting many activities, providing a long-term skills legacy in the region including the Somerset Education Business partnership and Inspire Education Programme, activities which I have seen first-hand or have been involved with.     

The challenges are clear and should not be underestimated. There is an urgent need to build a qualified and experienced skills base capable of meeting the demands of this growing nuclear sector, particularly as we have an ageing workforce, meaning more have been leaving than joining the sector. Therefore, for those who want a long career path in nuclear energy, the opportunities are there for the taking. 

I was delighted to attend the opening of the National College for Nuclear (NCfN) southern hub last year in Cannington, Somerset which is an important part of the jigsaw of the Government’s response to this anticipated training and development need. A partnership between industry, national regulators, skills bodies and training providers, it plans to revolutionise the way that training for the nuclear sector is delivered to ensure that the UK maintains its enviable global reputation for creating future world-class talent with the rights skills and behaviours. However, it is vital for parents, educationalists, business leaders and government to encourage our young to explore all career opportunities whilst providing the resources to help fulfil dreams and aspirations. 

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