Centre for skills to fire a nuclear future

11th May 2007 at 01:00

A new academy of excellence in Cumbria will address chronic training needs as the industry scraps the old and starts anew.

AN pound;18 million training academy opens its doors next year to bridge a yawning skills gap in the nuclear industry.

The Nuclear Academy Northwest in Cumbria is set to become a national centre of excellence in training for the clean-up of Britain's old nuclear reactors, and, if given the go-ahead, for building a new generation of power stations.

Funded by the Government and employers, the centre will offer qualifications tailor-made for the nuclear industry in partnership with further education colleges and private training providers.

Using the most advanced facilities to simulate industry conditions, it will offer courses for school and college leavers as well as retraining existing staff.

Building work began in March and the first students will start in September 2008. The academy will be based near Sellafield, a two-square-mile site which employs 12,000 people in nuclear decommissioning, fuel manufacturing, waste reprocessing and storage.

The new centre is part of the National Skills Academy for Nuclear (NSAN), given the go-ahead last year to address chronic training needs in the industry.

The academy is liaising with employers, colleges and private training providers throughout the UK. "It's of such huge significance," said Jean Llewellyn, NSAN's project director. "The big fear is that if we don't have the right skills we will end up importing all the labour from abroad. We need to be training our own staff."

The UK's nuclear industry is undergoing a renaissance after years in the doldrums. Nuclear power is currently generated by ten stations spread around the coast, each of which has an expected closure date.

Decommissioning and cleaning them up safely represent huge technical challenges. The industry also processes spent nuclear fuel from Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Sweden, Italy, the Netherlands and Canada.

The Government put nuclear power back on the agenda - with the prospect of a network of new power stations - last year, amid concern over climate change. To meet predicted energy needs, 10 reactors would have to be built at five sites over 15 to 20 years, the Nuclear Industry Association says.

It estimates this would create about 250 jobs in project management and technical support, 2,400 in construction and site installation and 1,000 in manufacturing. Operation of the new stations would also create 3,000 jobs, plus 2,200 in the support sector.

The cost of cleaning up Britain's existing nuclear legacy has been estimated at more than pound;70 billion. Jobs in decommissioning could increase from 6,300 to a projected peak of 9,600 by 2015.

The new academy has been writing a business plan to submit to the Learning and Skills Council and to Ministers. Partners include the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, British Nuclear Group and British Energy. The academy will mainly offer vocational qualifications, including NVQs, apprenticeships and foundation degrees, but will also have links to higher education.

NSAN is also developing training standards for the industry. Only colleges and private pro-viders that meet its standards will become part of the academy.

The new-look industry will increasingly need transferable skills, says Jean Llewellyn of NSAN.

"I think there will be a lot of input from FE because the good colleges are realising that they have to change their style and approach," she said.

"They have to become more pro-active and employer focused."


Calder Hall, Cumbria, became the world's first commercial nuclear power station in 1956 and stopped generating electricity in 2003.

Ten new reactors would be needed on five sites in the next 20 years to meet our predicted energy needs.

The UK's nuclear industry directly employs more than 50,000 people, with apprenticeships in mechanics, instrumentation, electrics, control and decommissioning.

72 per cent of employers report skill gaps.

Sellafield, in Cumbria, has more than 200 nuclear facilities employing 12,000 people.

Plants take up to 50 years to decommission. Sellafield will take until 2050 to make safe.

There are 2,000cu.m of high-level waste in storage and 350,000cu.m of intermediate waste to be produced from decommissioning.

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