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A career blossoms at a dying plant

Vicki Foster has worked at Calder Hall in west Cumbria, the world's first civil nuclear power station, for six years, Martin Whittaker writes.

Commissioned in 1956, it closed in March 2003 and is now going through decommissioning, being cleaned for deconstruction.

Vicki, 26, has seen her role change too. After starting in the office, she trained to become a health physics monitor, responsible for monitoring radiation and contamination, and is now a safety adviser at the plant. She is taking a three-year part-time foundation degree in nuclear commissioning at Lakes College West Cumbria, in Workington, and has her sights set on becoming a decommissioning project manager.

"Most of my working life so far has been in the nuclear industry," she said. "I'm working on a decommissioning site so, for myself, for career progression, for work, a degree in nuclear decommissioning was a sensible way to go."

The foundation degree is the first of its kind and is being offered by Lakes College in partnership with the University of Central Lancashire and private training provider GenII, which trains many staff for the Sellafield nuclear site in Cumbria.

The college was a prime mover in the original concept of a skills academy for the nuclear industry. Pat Glenday, the principal of Lakes College, said: "We could be on the cusp of something absolutely fantastic for a small, rural isolated community. And the fact that it's focusing on the nuclear industry will bring spin-offs right across all provision in the college."

A dozen students are taking the foundation degree, on day release from industry. Next year the college is expanding the course for 20 part-time students from industry, as well as starting a two-year full-time course for school and college leavers. It also offers short courses in radiology to all its full-time engineering students, in recognition of growing demand in the nuclear decommissioning industry.

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