Massive skills shortages could thwart the government’s £36bn nuclear new-build plan, unions warned.
More than half of Britain’s already dwindling nuclear workforce is likely to be retired by the time the new stations open for business, leading union figures claim.
This will leave a huge gap as years of unfashionability have seen many universities close specialist courses and companies scale back training programmes.
Mike Clancy, assistant general secretary of the Prospect union, which represents scientists and engineers, told Personnel Today that urgent action was needed.
“The government is talking about new nuclear stations being operational by 2020, but our evidence is that well over 50% of the technical workforce is within 15 years of retirement,” he said.
“It is going to take five to six years of training to prepare people for running complex nuclear stations. Coherent action needs to be taken now by the government in conjunction with the sector skills councils and the universities.”
Business secretary John Hutton last week announced that the government would be relying heavily on nuclear power to cut its carbon emissions this century.
However, Clancy said school children needed to be convinced of the benefits of working in nuclear engineering. And looking abroad for labour was also not a solution. “You are unlikely to deal with all the challenges by using foreign engineers. These countries have their own nuclear programmes to staff,” he said.
The GMB union also said there should be sufficient skilled labour in the UK to complete the project.