Fri 19 April 2019

The country’s £70 billion plans for nuclear energy production is in serious trouble, says a new report

The country could literally be ‘on the blink’ as 14 of its 15 existing nuclear power stations are due to close by 2030 – drastically reducing the current 21 per cent share of electricity generated by nuclear power.

The power stations were due to be replaced by eight new stations, but only one is currently under construction by the French nationalised energy firm EDF at Hinckley Point in Somerset. And that may well miss its 2025 opening deadline.

Over the past two months, three unrelated announcements have drastically changed the situation for the worse.

Plans for a new nuclear plant at Sellafield in Cumbria – called Moorside – have been scrapped after Toshiba decided to pull out of the development and the company failed to find a buyer for the project.

Meetings are also being held by Hitachi to consider abandoning its plans to build a £16 billion nuclear power station at Wylfa in Anglesey – only six months after the UK agreed to pump £5 billion of taxpayer’s money into the project to keep it going. Hitachi’s share price went up on the announcement of a possible pull-out. The decision also puts at risk two other projects by Hitachi in Oldbury, Gloucestershire, leaving Britain mainly relying on the Chinese to build a new power station in Bradwell, Essex, and help develop a new power station at Sizewell.

While companies seem to be competing to pull out of UK nuclear projects, a damning report has been produced by the Nuclear Skills Strategy Group, an employer-led organisation, which includes representatives of government, the unions and China. It found that the UK has an enormous skills shortage of available engineers and could face an “age related cliff-edge loss of current skills and experience” as well-qualified staff retire.

The report, which was signed-off by three Government ministers in the departments of business, defence and education, makes for grim reading.

In order to recruit the 100,000 skilled people required to build the new power stations, existing recruitment will need to be doubled to plug the 50 per cent shortfall, it said. Electrical and civil engineers,  safety experts, emergency planners, control and instrumentation experts, project planners and regulators are all in short supply. While, in basic construction, there is a shortage of scaffolders and concrete experts.

“Even where there is a large national pool from which new staff and trainees can be drawn, recruitment, attraction, and retention factor heavily in determining available supply,” the report said. “Remote locations, competing industries, and the lack of practical training opportunities can all affect workforce availability.”

The problem is also being made worse by Britain leaving the EU, which could hit skilled people from other EU countries taking up work and also affect nuclear research.

The report revealed that the shortage also extends to the military where the UK is committed to replacing the Trident programme. There is growing collaboration between the military and civil nuclear industry with new initiatives set up in Cumbria and at Hinckley Point, with plans to shorten security checks to attract new staff.

Given that civil and nuclear power is under attack from protest groups such as Greenpeace and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, it would be ironic indeed if both collapsed from failures to attract enough staff or contractors willing to take the commercial risk to do the job.

Read the report here.

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