Government taskforce aims to bridge nuclear skills gap

The UK government is looking to train the tens of thousands of workers needed to build nuclear power stations and submarines.

The government is reacting to warnings that the UK lacks the skilled workers needed to deliver on the country’s target of building 24GW of new nuclear power-generating capacity by 2050.

The new Nuclear Skills Taskforce will focus on developing a skills strategy to support the expansion expected in various roles within the nuclear industry. It will be chaired by Sir Simon Bollom, former CEO of Defence Equipment and Support.

The jobs required to drive the nuclear sector range from technical scientific and engineering roles through to logistics, project management, commercial and finance – with a variety of apprentice and graduate opportunities, the government said. 

“By developing nuclear skills, we are not just investing in the UK economy but our national security, said James Cartlidge, minister for defence procurement. “The creation of this new taskforce will challenge the whole of the UK’s nuclear sector to be ambitious in addressing the nuclear skills gap.

“Against a backdrop of increasing international competition for such roles, the taskforce will set up the UK’s nuclear sector for future success, supporting industry to build a long-term and sustainable pipeline of skills to meet our nuclear ambition.

The government has recently launched Great British Nuclear (GBN), a public body for the development of “cleaner, cheaper and more secure energy. Companies can register their interest with GBN to participate in a competition to secure funding support to develop products including small modular reactors (SMR).

However, a report by the House of Commons Science, Innovation and Technology Committee (SITC) warned on Monday that the nuclear workforce of about 65,000 would “need to more than double” if the UK was to meet its target of building 24GW of atomic generating capacity.

Andrew Bowie, minister for nuclear, said: “The UK’s nuclear revival, with the launch of GBN, will put us centre stage in the global race to unleash a new generation of nuclear technology. The Nuclear Skills Taskforce will support this expansion by securing the skills and workforce we need to deliver this, opening up exciting opportunities and careers to help bolster our energy security.

In addition to supporting the UK’s nuclear plants, technical expertise will also be required to drive the defence sector, particularly the AUKUS submarine-building programme, which is a defence partnership between the UK, US and Australian navies.

As part of the agreement, the UK will also build next-generation submarines, which are expected to be in operation for the Royal Navy by the late 2030s. The boats will replace the UK’s seven Astute-class subs, although the government has not specified how many will be ordered.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has called the deal the “most significant multilateral defence partnership in generations”, while US President Joe Biden confirmed Australian personnel would “embed” with US and UK crews this year, and have bases on shipyards to increase their knowledge of the technology behind the nuclear-powered submarines.

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