UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 640-i

House of COMMONS

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE

INNOVATION, UNIVERSITIES, SCIENCE & SKILLS COMMITTEE

 

 

NUCLEAR ENGINEERING

 

 

Monday, 7 July 2008

PROFESSOR SIR CHRIS LLEWELLYN SMITH, PROFESSOR JONATHAN BILLOWES, DR STEPHEN GARWOOD and DR GRAHAM BALDWIN

CLIVE SMITH OBE, ROBERT SKELTON and MICHAEL GRAVE

Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 91

 

 

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Innovation, Universities, Science & Skills Committee

on Monday 7 July 2008

Members present

Mr Phil Willis, in the Chair

Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods

Dr Brian Iddon

Mr Gordon Marsden

Graham Stringer

________________

 

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Professor Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith, Director, United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (Culham Division), Professor Jonathan Billowes Director of Education, Dalton Nuclear Institute, Dr Stephen Garwood, Director, Engineering & Technology-Submarines, Rolls-Royce and Dr Graham Baldwin, Pro Vice Chancellor (Nuclear Industries), University of Central Lancashire, gave evidence.

Q1 Chairman: May I welcome our first panel of witnesses this afternoon. Thank you all very much indeed for coming to this the first evidence session for our nuclear engineering case study, as part of our major inquiry into United Kingdom engineering. We are particularly grateful that you have come along, because obviously nuclear engineering and the development of new nuclear power stations is very much high on the Government's agenda at the moment and the one question that we are asking as a Committee in engineering terms is, are we capable of actually building a whole set of new nuclear power stations? Do we have the capacity to do that and if not, what do we need to put in place? I wonder if I could introduce our witnesses this afternoon: Professor Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith, the Director of UKAEA at Culham; Professor Jonathan Billowes, the Director of Education at the Dalton Nuclear Institute; Dr Stephen Garwood, the Director of Engineering & Technology-Submarines, at Rolls-Royce; and Dr Graham Baldwin, the Pro Vice Chancellor (Nuclear Industries) at the University of Central Lancashire. I wonder if I could I start with you, Professor Billowes. Could you give the Committee a definition of what you see as nuclear engineering; what is it? Your colleagues will then check to see whether you get the right answer.

Professor Billowes: The narrow definition, if you have an undergraduate programme called nuclear engineering; it would have reactor physics and criticality nuclear fuel cycle, some hydraulics, basic nuclear physics and radio protection. If you ask what a nuclear power programme would require, it is rather broader, so it would have chemistry, radio-chemistry materials, socio-economics and sciences.

Q2 Chairman: Colleagues, would anybody like to add to that?

Dr Garwood: I can give a slightly modified, industrial view, Chairman. In the industrial arena, I think it would be broader, in the sense that people with an engineering background and a graduate degree who are then trained in the nuclear arena in their specialisations which could be done by the industry would also be nuclear engineers in the broad.

Dr Baldwin: From our point of view, we took a fairly broad definition and looked at engineering applied to the nuclear sector, so that we did not just narrow it down to those people who required specific nuclear activities but the engineering that is required to underpin the nuclear industry broadly.

Q3 Chairman: So, if you were building a nuclear power station, a significant amount of it, taking away the reactor, is standard engineering, but would you include that because it was part of the nuclear installation as nuclear engineering?

Dr Baldwin: Yes, we see a need for specific programmes as well as more generic programmes and within those generic programmes we would have a stream of core engineering elements but then some nuclear modules attached to that. But then when a graduate goes into the industry they would then be able to apply that in the various different contexts and they would get training on the ground.

Q4 Chairman: Sir Chris, is it important for us as a Committee to make it absolutely clear what we understand by nuclear engineering?

Professor Llewellyn Smith: Yes, I should think so. Fusion is in the research phase at the moment and is mainly dominated by plasma physics, but in the future it is going to become increasingly dominated by engineering and development and the United Kingdom programme must move in that direction because that is where the intellectual value will be and that is where the centre of gravity will be. We have lots of engineering skills in what we are doing in particular to operate the Joint European Torus at Culham at the moment in cryogenics controls, high vacuum, super conductivity and radio frequency systems but in the future we are going to need just these skills, fuel cycle and others, fluid transfer, high heat flux, which are broader than nuclear. In building a fusion power station, there will be a core some nuclear skills but a very broad range of engineering will be needed. At the moment we only have a limited range of specifically nuclear activities to do with the activation of materials and the tritium handling cycle, which we will probably have unique expertise in the world - I am talking about half a dozen people, at the moment. But if we are not moving there in 15 years, the United Kingdom will not be there as a major player.

Q5 Graham Stringer: That leads neatly on to a question of what are the nuclear engineering strengths and weaknesses. What are the strengths in this country of nuclear engineering and what are the weaknesses?

Dr Baldwin: There is a very strong strength on design still in this country. My company has been designing pressurised water reactors for 50 years. We have 850 nuclear engineers in the broader sense working today on that activity and that is a continuing skill. There is also a skill out in the supply chain, which has come from the legacy issues in nuclear engineering and I think it is that supply chain that we need to advance with the new civil build. We still have a very strong capability out in the supply chain and in certain industries in the nuclear area.

Q6 Graham Stringer: Anybody else on weaknesses?

Professor Llewellyn Smith: Yes, if I look at the skills we need, it is much broader than just nuclear, so the physicists we want we can get; the mechanical engineers we want, with some difficulty; high voltage electrical engineers, not for love or money; mechanical engineers with design and project leadership skills, very difficult to get; in the future when we need nuclear engineers, I expect they will be difficult to get too.

Q7 Graham Stringer: What do you think the Government should do about those weaknesses, those areas where we do not have the skills?

Professor Llewellyn Smith: It needs things to encourage young people at all levels. Starting off, we are doing things in primary schools, for example. By the way, I would like to invite the Committee to come and visit us, in particular, to see what we are doing with primary schools, which is very interesting. We get the kids in and I can give you a quote from an independent reviewer, "I used to think that science was boring but now I see it can actually be interesting", etc. All the way up, we are doing what we can at schools for the very long term; at university we have summer placements, and so on, and we are trying to get engineering graduates in, but there is competition out there, but we are growing our own. We have also restarted our own apprenticeship scheme, which was dead for many years, and it is going well. The first entry is just coming through; two of them are now doing part-time degrees. We are doing what we can, but it is a drop in the ocean, so it needs something to really stimulate engineering generally in schools. I have got some ideas on that.

Q8 Chairman: Is there anything you want to add?

Professor Billowes: Yes, on the weakness side, which apart from the fusion programme, in the fusion area, our engagement with Europe and America is weak in basic R&D and if we could get that done at universities and with the National Nuclear Laboratory, it would encourage young people, it opens up a pipeline to general engineers to get into that area, so GEN 4 type systems, G-NET.

Dr Baldwin: I think we need clarity of message. I would agree that we have got a long history and experience of delivering high-quality engineering education and that capability still exists, but there is a challenge in the throughput of new people into the industry, or into the subject area, so we have to be innovative in terms of our delivery. We have to have clarity of message because we have not recruited significantly as there has been hesitancy and uncertainty around nuclear and its future. So, we welcome the fact that there is that clear message but we need that clarity and we need to translate that into innovative programme design and to encourage young people to come through and take on science, technology and engineering subjects, as we have heard, at school and right the way through into university. We have got to have that clarity and joined-up approach.

Q9 Graham Stringer: So, we have got an immediate skill shortage in certain areas. What are the other big challenges over the next 50 years?

Professor Billowes: I think there are three areas that we need to work in. One is that we are going to need operators to operate plant from 2018, and they should be in the educational system now and they need a career path; they have got to be suitably qualified and experienced, and getting experience takes years. In the short term, the expertise in the country, it will probably be in the National Nuclear Laboratory, the next year's solutions people, are enough expertise in the licensing process to start off with, but that expertise needs to be carried over to the next generation as well because those people are older than average and will be retiring soon.

Q10 Chairman: All this is pie in the sky. We were talking about major civil bills for four and up to ten nuclear power stations, starting within the next six to eight years - if we are going to meet the 2018 target that the Government has set, some of them are going to have to be coming out of the ground within five to eight years. If that is the case, we have missed the boat, have we not? We are not going to be able to grow the new group of engineers in that space of time, so where are we going to get them from?

Professor Billowes: I do not think we have missed the boat. I think the bigger problem may be the bottlenecks in the supply chain.

Dr Garwood: I agree with what Jon says. I do not think we have missed the boat. We have a new generation design going on in the military field and obviously there is somewhat of a threat in the civil programme of drawing people from the military programme which will only just resource it. But I believe the United Kingdom can support those programmes. Timing and resources are everything though, because the next generation of civil bills will not be designed in the United Kingdom, the design will come from abroad, whereas the military designs are UK-based. So you can see that the designers currently learning their skills in the military field will then move on to the civil field when we go on to the GEN IV programmes. Equally, the resource basis can be partly filled by the people from Europe in the interim, but we need to build a United Kingdom resource for the longer term when we are operating these plants. So, timing and resource planning is the key to this.

Q11 Graham Stringer: May I take you back to the answer about one of the weaknesses being our relationship with Europe and the United States. I would be grateful if you could expand on that and explain why that is a weakness, and also explain what the United Kingdom's nuclear engineers' role will be internationally over the next 20 years or so.

Professor Billowes: At the moment, I think the United Kingdom has a lot of expertise in different reactor systems; some of the technology is in the GEN IV system. The DTI pulled out of GEN IV three or four years ago and since then we, for example, are trying to do basic science and we cannot get research money from EPSRC for that because there is the perception that the United Kingdom is not longer supporting advanced reactor R&D. So, it is GEN IV we have pulled out of; we are in G-NET.

Q12 Graham Stringer: Can you quantify that a bit in terms of the damage in terms of fund allocations? Just ballpark figures.

Professor Billowes: I am not sure I can give a ballpark figure but it might have been 4 million spread around several universities and companies like AMEC, Nexia and Serca. It allows research to be done and it brings in young people; new blood.

Q13 Graham Stringer: So you would like that decision reversed, essentially?

Professor Billowes: Yes, and also investment in R&D in the long term, you recover that money by factors or two or three further down the road.

Dr Garwood: It is important to note that we have not missed the boat because on the military programmes the R&D has started. The Government, through the Ministry of Defence, have already put in 25 million of R&D money into those programmes. So, that activity is going on and that is giving an unpinning to the skill base. But I agree with Jon, for the future programmes, we need a future into the R&D.

Dr Baldwin: We have also got to take into account that we are looking at new blood into the industry but also looking at the reskilling and the upskilling agenda and as we go through the phase of nuclear decommissioning and we see that there are people who are no longer required within that activity, then there is an opportunity for reskilling and upskilling work to increase the pool of people who could work in the new build.

Q14 Chairman: In terms, Sir Chris, of the learned societies and the professional bodies, how significant does nuclear engineering feature?

Professor Llewellyn Smith: I am probably not the right person to ask that because the professional bodies that I belong to have no interest in it whatsoever, as far as I know. I am not an engineer.

Q15 Chairman: Are you all members of professional bodies?

Dr Garwood: Yes. The Royal Academy of Engineering is now a large focus and the Academy is looking at this very seriously. I do not know whether you are taking evidence from Academy members. It is back on the engineering agenda and I would just like to say that we have recruited 230 engineers in the past two years in Rolls Royce to do nuclear engineering in the broader sense. They are engineers who would either be trained to do engineering or are from a nuclear background. These guys are coming into the programme because there is a future in the programme now. They can see 40 years of design and operation of these new plants and that is what stimulates engineers to come into a future.

Q16 Chairman: I can see that. You have all displayed a real enthusiasm for nuclear engineering this afternoon. I was with a group of people this morning who were telling me there was a huge disconnect between the vision of the learned societies and the institutions, and what was actually happening on the ground. I wonder whether you share that view?

Dr Garwood: Not really, no.

Q17 Mr Marsden: I wonder if we could just drill down a little further on some of the issues of skill shortages in nuclear engineering. Perhaps I could start off by asking you, Professor Llewellyn Smith: the statistics that are knocking around, or the reported statistics that we have received, are pretty worrying. Professor Faulkner said, in his written evidence to us, that the nuclear engineering skill base reduced approximately 10% per annum for the past 15 years. We have got other reports from British Energy and elsewhere that suggest that the United Kingdom needs to double the number of STEM graduates it produces in general from 45,000 to 97,000 by 2014. Has the melt-down, if one can put it that way, in terms of skill shortage been so much worse in nuclear than other branches of engineering, and if so, why?

Professor Llewellyn Smith: For us, in fusion, we do not really need nuclear skills today; we foresee the need in the future. We are not feeling a melt down, we are feeling a problem in the many areas of engineering. As a citizen, I am concerned about the figures that you quoted and we can see a problem in the future, but it is not actually affecting what we are doing today.

Q18 Mr Marsden: Do any other members of the panel want to comment on the broader aspects affecting the industry?

Dr Baldwin: I think you are right, we do need a significant increase in the number of engineers over the next few years. With regard to nuclear, there are a number of factors that have influenced its attractiveness. The uncertainty that I alluded to earlier, people not sure about what the future will be for nuclear, the advent of nuclear decommissioning was not necessarily very well understood. The fact that nuclear decommissioning has quite a significant lifespan but the term decommissioning suggests an end game and therefore does not necessarily attract new people into it. With the increasing interest in energy generally, and with a greater understanding of the future of nuclear, there is now an opportunity to attract more people into education and into the STEM subjects. There is an awful lot of work being done now that will pay dividends over the next few years, so there is a reason for confidence that we can meet the demands as we move forward, but it will take significant action.

Q19 Mr Marsden: Just on that specific point, the issue as always with these things - to quote Keynes' famous dictum "in the long term we are all dead" - is whether in fact the degradation in terms of skills, the statistics that I have quoted, can be sufficiently reversed in the medium term to preserve the position for the summing up plans that the broader picture suggests. I wonder whether you think that we have got the time to do that.

Dr Baldwin: I think we are doing the right things in terms of making sure that we do have the skills in the timeframe that we are discussing.

Professor Billowes: There are two points. One is that until Lancaster University started their nuclear engineering undergraduate degree two years ago, there was not a single nuclear engineering undergraduate degree in the country. So, that is one reason why you do not have people coming through that route. There have been a few masters programmes in the nuclear engineering area - Birmingham's physics and technology of nuclear reactors has been running for over 50 years; HMS Sultan have been doing courses for graduates with a nuclear department, and we have now a national Nuclear Technology Education Consortium involving 11 universities. These are producing masters-level people doing nuclear engineering who come from a general background, so it nuclearises them.

Q20 Mr Marsden: I will not go down that route at the moment, because I think we have some very specific questions about that later on. What I would like to pick up from there is what you were saying about the difference between pure skills and generic skills, if I can put it that way, are there any sectors in the United Kingdom nuclear industry which are particularly badly affected in terms of these shortages?

Dr Garwood: I can tell you from our recruitment campaign, electrical engineering is one area in which we have had particular difficulty in getting high-quality people through. And, of course, they underpin the nuclear programmes. Systems engineering is another area we have had difficulty with.

Q21 Mr Marsden: Back to the issue that my colleague, Graham Stringer raised, which is the whole issue of international co-operation and collaboration, particularly with the United States. You could say, if you wanted to be mischievous or the devil's advocate, does it matter if the United Kingdom is potentially reliant on overseas capability? What is the push-pull factor between the United Kingdom capability being sought overseas? After all, we live in a globalised world where some of the people we are talking about are highly skilled, does it matter that we develop our own home grown ability?

Dr Garwood: May I answer first, because for the defence programmes, they have to be United Kingdom nationals, so it is essential that we have this resource keeping on coming through from our universities to fulfil those programmes. Also, I believe in the longer term, particularly when there are civil bill programmes worldwide, we will be competing in the worldwide market place for resources, so that if we have not got our own indigenous enthusiastic population, we will be struggling.

Q22 Mr Marsden: Dr Baldwin, UCLan has a strong reputation not just for attracting overseas students but also for doing some fairly enterprising pioneering things overseas. So, from your perspective at UCLan you must see both sides of the coin. What is your perspective on it?

Dr Baldwin: We would want to support overseas students and welcome the opportunity to prepare people who would be valuable overseas and could support the industry globally. There is an opportunity to work in partnership and we would want to see people going in both directions. I would, however, agree that we need a home grown supply of people who can work in the industry. As it becomes a global phenomenon and more new build occurs, then there will be more demand and although we want to ensure that we have people properly skilled that we can have going both ways, I still think that it is important to ensure that if new build occurs in one particular location and that attracts a lot of people, we have still got enough people who want to remain here in this country to support the activities that we have got. In summary, yes, it is very important that we have partnership. some of the people who are training overseas can come and work with us in the short term and provide a short-term opportunity for us. Likewise, we want to prepare people to go the other way but I think we need a long-term partnership but for that to be a balanced partnership we have to produce home grown, quality science and engineering graduates.

Q23 Mr Marsden: While I have got you on the balance, as it were, I cannot resist asking you this question - obviously, as a Blackpool MP - you have got Springfields just around the corner from you, there was a reference earlier to decommissioning and ancillary aspects, have we got the balance right, in terms of bringing people with skills into reprocessing, for example, as opposed to new build? Is there an understanding out there that those sorts of offshoots of the nuclear industry are going to continue to be profitable and useful?

Dr Baldwin: We have to be careful with the message that we give and that has been part of the problem in recent years. There has been a little bit of uncertainty about what we mean by certain terms and what activities are involved in which part of the industry or sector. There is a lot of work being done at the moment to ensure that career pathways are properly mapped out so that young people, or anybody coming into the industry, has a full understanding of what sits where within the industry and that will allow a much better and much more informed decisions to be made. We are addressing that and ensuring that people understand all the implications of the various sections of the nuclear industry and to make sure that we have a balanced approach to skill development.

Professor Llewellyn Smith: I wanted to say that just on the matter of rebuild, of course, you need a certain skill level just to act as intelligent customer and my colleagues would know more about this than me but I would be worried that we were even there, not necessarily got enough. It was the remark about fusion being a bit different for international collaboration - an earlier question - if I could just quickly go back to that. Fusion is strongly co-ordinated across Europe; very international. I happen to chair the body that advises EURATOM which plays a co-ordinating role. There, we have recognised Europe-wide the skills shortage and have introduced a training scheme which is taking on about 40 people a year, some of them in physics but also in engineering, but a multinational training scheme where they move around. So, we are looking after our own very specific needs in fusion. We are also moving to a level of world collaboration. The next big project is ITER, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, in which over half the population of the world is involved, all the major countries. I chair the council of that body. That has had a major stimulating effect on young people getting involved in fusion. They have suddenly seen that there is this huge project, the major governments of the world - the United States, China, Japan and the European Union - are taking this very seriously as an option. It looks interesting, it is a good thing to get into and because of this project, which will be there for 30 years probably, there is a future and it has had a tremendous effect on recruitment.

Q24 Mr Marsden: Dr Garwood, can I turn to you and ask you about the role both of industry but also of the United Kingdom Government in maintaining and revitalising nuclear engineering skills, which again it seems to me is not without controversy, certainly as far as the Government's side is concerned, because after all the commitments that have been made to producing a new generation of nuclear power stations have been based on the assumption that there is going to be no sustained level of Government spending on that, it has all got to come from the private sector, we had the previously inquiry which Malcolm Wicks, the Energy Minister was adamant on that point. So, industry is going to have to pick up most of the stretch for this is it not?

Dr Garwood: It is important that future programmes are defined to give the pull to industry to know that its investment is going to create wealth for the country and for the industry. So, some level of security going forward is very important, of course, for industrial backing. I can see that this is a very holistic problem between Government, academia and industry in our skills generation. We already have the commitment for the design of the new generation of military reactors, which has started that enthusiasm off for recruitment, so with the civil build programme, as long as industry is willing to come to the table and say, we are going to build these reactors, that would cause the necessary enthusiasm in the resource pool to start the training schemes up. You have already heard from my academic colleagues that the universities are responding to that, but it has to be the three getting together - Government, academia and industry.

Q25 Mr Marsden: Professor Billowes, from the academic perspective, you know what the Government's position is - it has been restated - does it concern you therefore that you cannot guarantee that there is going to be a major Government initiative, certainly a major Government funding initiative, to include skills in nuclear engineering?

Professor Billowes: I was about to talk about the masters-level programmes. Undergraduate programmes will spring up; Imperial are starting nuclear engineering strands to three undergraduate programmes and I think others will follow. Undergraduate programmes attract money for students arriving on the programme. At masters-level, it is much more vulnerable. The Birmingham programme, running for 50 years, almost disappeared about four years ago when EPCERT stopped the capital training account award to them. It essentially started, but that programme and the national NTEC programme, they lose the funding next September and it is not clear what is going to happen beyond that. EPCERT are stopping the CTA scheme; they are moving to a KTA scheme, which is not as transferable.

Q26 Mr Marsden: You are losing us with acronyms.

Professor Billowes: The CTA - Capital Training Account - which has been supporting masters programmes, fees and stipends for full-time students; the KTA, I do not know what the rules are yet because they are not released, but I think it will be looking for knowledge transfer from universities to industry and not specifically supporting fees and stipends on masters programmes. The two university programmes in nuclear engineering are very vulnerable from next year.

Q27 Mr Marsden: You are going to have to go along to DIAS to start this, are you?

Professor Billowes: At the moment it is EPCERT that have taken on the responsibility. On the NTEC programme, we were hoping that we would be self-sustaining with industry uptake of the courses.

Q28 Mr Marsden: I am sorry to interrupt you, but we are getting a bit technical here. The thrust of my question is this - and you are producing some very interesting examples which I think might be useful to have a written note of to the Committee - what you are producing already, to me at least, gives the game away on some of the tensions. You are saying, these are things were you are going to want a Government steer on funding, yet we know what the overall Government position on this is, the Government overall position is that industry must take up the slack.

Professor Billowes: I think there might be a response to the Government to provide a workforce so that if companies want to come and build a reactor, they want to know that the workforce is there which they can get in to help.

Q29 Mr Marsden: That would lead to some interesting conversations between Ministers in that case. Can I just finally come back to you, Dr Garwood, just picking up on something that you said earlier, which was in response to a question about United Kingdom nationals in the military industry, and that raises the question in my mind as to what the actual transfer is likely to be between the skills that are demonstrated in the military nuclear engineering sector and the provisions of skills for civil new build. We have seen in the past - I am going back to the 1970s and 1980s, when there were great debates about knowledge transfer between military and civil purposes - that there were all sorts of imaginative schemes coming forward but the actual amount of transfer is relatively negligible. You are fairly bullish about this are you?

Dr Garwood: I am, yes. The reason being that we are now in a situation where the design of the military reactor plant is the same, in principle, as the design of the likely civil build programmes and this gives a great opportunity for more transfer than was historically the case. Also, as I said before, the dovetailing of design which we are currently doing in the military programmes whereas the new design was not required immediately on the civil programme, it will be later. So, you can balance the two programmes quite nicely together, if that is done skilfully.

Chairman: I want to return later, Professor Billowes, to this issue of demarcation between what the State should be doing in terms of investing in its skills, probably at undergraduate level, and what should be happening post-graduate level at masters and doctorate level. It is a crucial issue and that is pertinent in terms of what is happening in terms of Central Lancashire as well.

Q30 Dr Iddon: The British Government were active participants in the Generation 4 international forum, GIF, I will call it. Nine countries, six reactor types being examined, why on earth did we pull out of what appears to me to be an important project like that, as an active participant? Does anybody know? That looks like a question for the Minister then. Can anybody tell us what were the advantages and disadvantages of being an active participant in the GIF programme?

Professor Billowes: First of all, the United Kingdom has a lot to offer in their experience in some of the technology, as I said before. Working internationally, we are doing research that attracts young people, we are getting leverage from the knowledge of other countries in the advanced reactor area. In 30 years' time we will probably want to build advanced reactors ourselves in this country and it is a way of understanding them early on. Also, the research you can do in that area carries over into the reactors that are already operating in this country which also need R&D support to keep them running. So, there are people being trained as experts in the area that the country then has for its own civil programme.

Q31 Dr Iddon: Anyone else?

Dr Garwood: Yes, I agree totally with Jon's comments. What is good about looking to the future in new reactor systems is that we are looking beyond the next generation of reactors for the future and it is very good investment because relatively small amounts of money in the concept stage can buy you a lot of knowledge. Much of our R&D currently is being spent on development of existing products, which is quite expensive compared to the concept. It is very important, if our future generation is to be good nuclear engineers that we get involved in this type of programme.

Q32 Dr Iddon: I am getting the message, Dr Garwood, that you feel that we ought to re-engage actively in this programme.

Dr Garwood: That is not quite what I said. It is actually a Government policy decision whether we should engage or not. I was saying that it is important that we look at future programmes and use the resource appropriately for concept type designs.

Q33 Dr Iddon: If you were the Government, would you do it?

Dr Garwood: If I was in the Government, would I do it?

Q34 Dr Iddon: Yes. You are the Prime Minister now, you can make the decision this afternoon.

Dr Garwood: I would have to pass on that one because he has a lot of difficult balances to make.

Q35 Dr Iddon: Anybody else feel that we should really be in on this programme, as we were at the beginning in 2000?

Professor Billowes: Can I add that it is not just the GEN-IV programme. There are other things in Europe, but I think that the United Kingdom is the only country missing from the table, like the accelerator-driven systems and energy amplifier systems. We do not seem to be engaging even with Europe in nuclear engineering areas.

Q36 Dr Iddon: Do you think the Government feels that we might have access to these programmes through the back door, for example, through the Framework 7 programmes, and so on, or EURATOM which was mentioned earlier, which is part of that general parcel? Are we getting information out of these programmes indirectly, rather than being actively involved in them, or are we just missing out completely?

Professor Billowes: There is very little university involvement.

Professor Llewellyn Smith: I think we can get the information out of them which is often published, but that is not the useful information, the tacit information, the hands-on knowledge, and we are not getting the advantage of being in exciting schemes and that is what stimulates young people to come in.

Q37 Dr Iddon: I got the feeling from you, Jonathan, that you want more involvement in international programmes and that we are just not there at the moment. Is that a general feeling across the panel?

Professor Billowes: It is important in universities that we can do basic science and get research money for it, because otherwise faculty are not reappointed, you lose that research area from university, you lose that education on undergraduate programmes, it is the reason why nuclear engineering disappeared from the United Kingdom in the 1980s and 1990s, the funding of R&D dropped almost to zero.

Q38 Dr Iddon: Is that because we do not have enough universities actively interested enough in this area of research?

Professor Billowes: No, I think it is having new faculty appointed to replace old faculty and unless they are doing internationally competitive research, they will not reappoint in that area.

Q39 Dr Iddon: Do you think they will reappoint, now that the atmosphere is changing?

Professor Billowes: In the last couple of years, there have been four or five new chairs in decommissioning fuel technology, nuclear engineering, that have been filled, so it is going in the right direction.

Dr Baldwin: Also, recently, one of the calls for funding suggested that universities that did not necessarily have a track record in a particular area but had some capability or emerging capability should also be included in the research proposals. That is something that should be further incentivised because there are a number of universities out there, some of them with developing capability, and it is important that we look right across the piece and try to bring some of those institutions on, where they have not previously been active in those areas. Clearly, international projects and opportunities to collaborate would be attractive and are likely to bring more people in.

Professor Llewellyn Smith: I would think the universities will get into these areas if they see there is a demand from young people who see a future in them. I can give fusion as an example: ten years ago, there was very little in British universities; Culham was more or less isolated. Today we have 40 PhD students who we co-supervise, we have links with 20 universities and a number of those universities - Imperial was always in there - but Warwick, York and others, are setting up courses in these areas because young people suddenly see this as a very exciting area to be in and the universities respond to that and then will create posts.

Q40 Dr Iddon: You talked about the progression from plasma physics to a requirement for engineers. Personally, as a member of the former Science and Technology Select Committee, I have been to Japan to see their fusion experiment and I have also visited you at Culham in the past. What kind of roles will the engineers be playing? Are they going to be building the plant? There was a big problem, of course, with the ceramic linings at one time, is that still a major problem?

Professor Llewellyn Smith: No, that is not a problem. Developing the nuclear components in the walls which will turn the neutrons that come out of fusion, capture them and create the heat; these are very challenging areas of extremely exciting engineering. There are huge materials issues, we have links with a very large number of universities in the relevant materials research where there is a big overlap with Generation IV needs, finding suitable materials, which will stand up to high neutrons and also to high temperature where there is a big overlap also with any thermal power plant, you want to get the highest possible temperature that gives you the highest efficiency. The area we want to get into is designing the trickiest part, which is where the intellectual value will lie. Whatever industry takes the lead in those will get the profit eventually, assuming we succeed.

Q41 Chairman: In how many years' time?

Professor Llewellyn Smith: Let me tell you why it is always 50 years ahead before I give an answer to that.

Q42 Dr Iddon: Well, it was 30 once was it not?

Professor Llewellyn Smith: It is less than that. My colleagues in America, in the mid-1970s, gave a prediction at the time and they gave it as a function of the money. They said that if we get this amount of money, we will have a prototype reactor in about 35 years. They said, if you give us 20% less, it will be 40 years; 30% less, and at a certain level they said we will never get the budgets at less than that level. So the predictions were correct. As a function of money, the money was not there as a function of time, it was not taken sufficiently seriously. The fact is that we are now building ITER, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor which will take about ten years. We will then want to run it for about ten years to have competence before building a real power station, then we will be ready to build a real power station. So that is another ten years, it is 30 I am afraid.

Q43 Dr Iddon: That is assuming you get over the planning problems?

Professor Llewellyn Smith: No, that is solved. It is going ahead in the South of France. I will be there on Wednesday.

Q44 Dr Iddon: That is good. This is a difficult question for you. Do you think there is a future for Culham's research once ITER is up and running?

Professor Llewellyn Smith: Absolutely, because ITER, like CERN, is going to be a user organisation. It is not going to have an in-house team of people operating it. The users will come from outside so there will be a need outside to be designing experiments and then commuting to and from the site to carry out the experiments. There will be a need in parallel, ITER alone is not sufficient, there is a huge need to develop the technology. That is why I and my successor who will be taking over in a few months want to move the British programme slowly over the next decade into the engineering phase, which is where the future will lie.

Q45 Dr Iddon: I am aware of your research, the Japanese research and the Russian research in this area. Is that the triangle, or are more people interested in it?

Professor Llewellyn Smith: I would say that the leaders in the world are Europe, followed by the United States and Japan.

Q46 Dr Blackman-Woods: We know that some universities have departments of nuclear physics, but they also have the capability in nuclear engineering that might sit somewhere else in the university, are we confident that they are doing different things? Should there really be stronger links between them?

Dr Baldwin: I wanted to ask whether that was in an institution or across institutions?

Q47 Dr Blackman-Woods: I guess it can be both, but I suppose links within an institution to start with.

Dr Baldwin: I think that it is very important that there are clear links within an institution and certainly the institutions that I am familiar with are looking to engage by having some sort of umbrella oversight of all the activity that is taking place in a relevant discipline. We are all very aware of the challenges of duplication and we want to make sure that the work we do is complementary. In terms of internally, we would definitely be looking to take a co-ordinated approach and to ensure that the relevant activity, wherever it lies within the university is co‑ordinated and joined up. We are certainly doing that with our university-wide strategy for nuclear activity. Then if you go across the institutions, it is also very important that we are talking to maximise the opportunities in terms of research and also in terms of delivering learning and teaching programmes. The industry is not that big when you compare it with other industries, so it would be silly for us all to compete within the same programme areas. Consequently, it is important that we work together. In the North West, we are just pulling a group together which consists of ourselves and Manchester and Lancaster, to name some of them, and what we are doing within that group is trying to adopt a co-ordinated approach to our activity in the region.

Professor Billowes: Nuclear physics is the fundamental science which underpins all nuclear applications in energy health decommissioning. The nuclear physics groups in United Kingdom universities exist because they can do international leading research, which is not in areas that will affect the energy programme directly. We would not get money to do any work in, for example, nuclear data because it would not be regarded as internationally leading. The advantage of having nuclear physics expertise in universities, is that they do an awful lot of the undergraduate teaching at nuclear level and a lot of physicists. When we started running this national masters programme, most of the full-time students joining that programme came in from physics and not engineering schools. Many of the nuclear physicists are also involved with health physics teaching and radiometrics and they go off and like the Head of the Nuclear Department at HMS Sultan who is an ex-nuclear physicist, and Malcolm Joyce is a nuclear engineer and an ex-nuclear physicist. So nuclear physics produces people who are showing leadership in nuclear engineering areas and they provide the early nuclear education for undergraduates on physics programmes, not on engineering programmes, so I think it is very important.

Q48 Dr Blackman-Woods: So, your argument is that we need both, but also that we need links between them?

Professor Billowes: Absolutely, yes.

Q49 Dr Blackman-Woods: I came in just as you were discussing the skills gap and I was wondering whether we could just look in a bit more detail at whether we have enough capability in nuclear engineering at the academic level to support the skills gap so that we get nuclear engineers for the future?

Dr Garwood: I think it is important that there is a skills gap, not only in nuclear engineering which it clearly is, but in engineering in general and so unfortunately we need both those things to be supported, but the specialised nuclear courses and good quality engineers giving us the background, the feedstock, for the nuclear engineers in the broader sense for the future.

Q50 Dr Blackman-Woods: Do you think the issue is being sufficiently addressed at the moment, so that we ensure that we have enough trained graduates for the future?

Dr Baldwin: The question we have is that the capability still exists within the universities to provide the required education. The key for us all is increasing the numbers of people coming into those subjects. I agree with my colleague that it is really general engineering that we need to promote and then there will be elements of nuclear activity that goes around that. I was alluding earlier to the fact that I think we have a number of initiatives that are now in place or are being put in place that will address that issue and we are looking at it from all levels from foundation degree through to undergraduate levels to post-graduate programmes. The fact that we have already been able to identify that we are coming together across universities, between universities and with increasing amounts of employer engagement so that we are directly responding to what the employers want, we have got a number of initiatives coming through that will address the issues that we have got. We have got a lot to do to reach the numbers that we require, but I think we are moving in the right direction.

Q51 Dr Blackman-Woods: How far advanced are plans for the National Nuclear Laboratory and can you tell us what you think it is going to do and what you would like to see it do?

Professor Billowes: What I think it will do is: it will be the people in Nexia Solutions who are the rump of the experts from the nuclear industry, and they will get no new money and they will be earning money from their customers and providing them with the expertise in plutonium chemistry or whatever the need is at the time. What I think they should be allowed to do is get engaged also in international research and development work, which would have to be funded by the Government.

Q52 Dr Blackman-Woods: Are there any other comments?

Dr Garwood: I would just say that it is good that the National Nuclear Laboratory is forming. It is necessary, but not sufficient. We also need industry to develop its skill base to support the whole industry.

Q53 Dr Blackman-Woods: So, if there were two things that you would like it to do that it is not doing, what are they, in summary: two things that you think it is not going to do that it should do.

Professor Billowes: It will not be doing basic R&D, because it will not be able to afford it. It has to earn money from its customer base and that is keeping existing plant running.

Q54 Dr Blackman-Woods: How advanced are plans for C-NET, the Centre for Nuclear Energy Technology?

Professor Billowes: We are raising money for Phase 1. It is the Centre for Nuclear Energy Technology at Manchester University. The Director has not been appointed yet, but he will be a professor in reactor technology and safety assessment. There are four main areas which we want to cover and they are areas where we perceive there to be critical skills shortages in the fusion industry. So the areas that we will have are reactor systems and engineering, materials performance, mechanical engineering, and society and sustainability. Phase 1 funding, we hope, will come partly from the Northwest Regional Development Agency, self-funding by the University of Manchester; we have got private funding for a new chair in nuclear fuel technology, with candidates being interviewed this month. We have recently had the University of Manchester receive its largest single endowment in its history specifically to support this nuclear area.

Q55 Dr Blackman-Woods: How can it relate to the National Nuclear Laboratory?

Professor Billowes: Again, because it is university based, it will be basic research, it will be people, increasing the skills that we have within the university so that we can provide independent advice where necessary, and it will produce people. We see the National Laboratory as transferring application to that research into the industry so, obviously, we would want to work closely with the National Laboratory in that basic research area.

Q56 Dr Blackman-Woods: Is the level of industry and Government support to both these projects sufficient?

Professor Billowes: I cannot say yet, we are still trying to raise money. But it is going ok.

Q57 Chairman: Professor Billowes, can I very briefly take you back to a conversation we had earlier: whether our universities through HEFCE should be creating - this is something you have alluded to before - the basic engineering qualifications, which should be bringing students through at undergraduate level that have got a good broad base in engineering, and therefore it is the industry which after that should be picking them up and at masters-level, sponsoring them and supporting them under the Government's co-funding model, in order to do that. Is that a model you would favour?

Professor Billowes: That is the model that we have tried. Undergraduate level is going to work as long as you can get school leavers to go on those programmes. There is no problem there, other than people doing maths, physics and chemistry in schools, there might be a problem there. At masters-level, if we rely simply on industry uptake of those courses, they are not viable at the moment.

Q58 Chairman: Right, so it will not happen at the moment?

Professor Billowes: To be viable, if we do not get funding next year from the Research Council, we will probably have to change our business model and knock out a large part of the portfolio. In the portfolio, we try to cover all the areas that we identify as being necessary - materials aspect, regulation, licensing, and safety assessments. We would have to start knocking this down to a basic core, and one of the courses that would have to go at the moment is the NTEC programme, which is the only programme that offers students experience on a working reactor: they can operate a working reactor, they can measure properties of a working reactor and to do that, we fly our students to Vienna on the trigger reactor at the Atton Institute. That is expensive to do and we do not get funding to do that. Imperial have lost their reactor at Ascot, which used to do this for the United Kingdom.

Q59 Chairman: Yours is a university that is very entrepreneurial in the way in which you approach higher education at the moment. That is not a criticism, that is a complement.

Professor Billowes: I took it as a complement.

Q60 Chairman: Good, just for the record. In terms of our European counterparts, do you feel that they are supporting much more strongly the programmes for nuclear engineering, particularly the masters and doctoral programmes?

Dr Baldwin: We are just looking at our relationships and partnerships in Europe, so it is perhaps a bit early to say whether they are being better supported. I would feel happier commenting on the system that we are using in this country. I think we have probably got a model that is developing that is potentially is fit for purpose. The key is that it is going to require quite a shift. It requires a shift in the employers' and industrial organisations' understanding of the needs of education. Then there is a two-way process because it is then incumbent upon us within education to identify what are the key issues and how we can work together to address those. We need to incentivise employers, in terms of the engagement, and the co-funding approach is an incentive. I also think that the Higher Level Skills Pathfinder, which has funded considerable development of programmes, has been an incentive and once you have the opportunity to collaborate on development in the initial phases with resource support, you then get the buy-in from the employers and the recognition, by working together, that you can meet the training requirements and you can significantly reduce costs. There has to be greater partnership activity and greater levels of employer engagement between universities and education providers and the industry to ensure that the systems work. The framework is there and in place but we have just got to begin to exploit it better.

Q61 Chairman: Let me just come back to you, Professor Billowes. In terms of the Research Councils themselves, I presume that you bid for funding from both STFC and EPSRC?

Professor Billowes: I do, and STFC support the nuclear physics side and EPSRC support the nuclear engineering side and perhaps applied nuclear physics.

Q62 Chairman: Does that cause a problem? Do you feel that the pathway is there for some joined-up thinking?

Professor Billowes: Some things can fall between the gaps and STFC are also beginning to see this. They are beginning to get concerned about knowledge transfer from nuclear physics into the industry, particularly in the applied nuclear physics area which also covers reactor physics and nuclear data. I have had personal experience of trying to see how to get funding for people to specialise in physics of reactors and nuclear data because it is not classed as world-leading research, so EPSRC and STFC and would not normally fund it as a standard grant.

Q63 Chairman: So there is some work to do in that direction?

Professor Billowes: Yes.

Q64 Chairman: Can I finish with you, Dr Garwood. In terms of Rolls-Royce, how much work do you do with universities in terms of propulsion?

Dr Garwood: An enormous amount.

Q65 Chairman: Do you fund that or do you expect the State to fund that?

Dr Garwood: We fund it but, of course, it is the Ministry of Defence's money. However, as you probably know we are forming a small group looking at where Rolls-Royce could operate within the energy business, in civil nuclear in particular, in the future and we are looking at a UTC in this area, too. Rolls-Royce itself puts 4 million of funding into our nuclear research and development. It is swamped by the Ministry of Defence money, which is about 100 million, but it is still a significant contribution, which goes directly to the universities, and is the seed corn money which concepts develop from.

Chairman: On that note, I am going to finish this first session. May I thank Professor Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith, Professor Jonathan Billowes, Dr Stephen Garwood and Dr Graham Baldwin. Thank you all very much indeed.


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Clive Smith, OBE, Nuclear Director, Cogent (also representing the National Skills Academy for Nuclear), Robert Skelton, Vice President, Institution of Nuclear Engineers and Michael Grave, Vice President, British Nuclear Energy Society, gave evidence.

Q66 Chairman: May I welcome our second panel this afternoon, Clive Smith OBE, the Nuclear Director of Cogent, also representing the National Skills Academy for Nuclear, Robert Skelton, the Vice President of the Institution of Nuclear Engineers, and Michael Grave, the Vice President of the British Nuclear Energy Society. Welcome to you all and thank you very much for coming into the earlier session. May I start with you, Clive, please. There are reported United Kingdom skill shortages in nuclear engineering. Are they simply a reflection of this general shortage of engineering skills, or are they very much specifically to nuclear because we just have not done nuclear for a long time with serious intent?

Clive Smith: There are some very specific hot spots: reactor physicists, for example, have risen on the Immigration Border Agency shortage category to allow immigration in that area; there are reported shortages in the Health and Safety Executive with nuclear inspectors - perhaps not surprisingly, as you need very experienced chaps, so they would be very much at the latter end of the age spectrum - and some other very particular areas. It is a general shortage and I think it goes back to what you were discussing in the last session, that there is a general shortage of engineers and scientists. Indeed, what employers generally tell us is that what they want is good engineers and scientists, which we can then "nuclearise" them so that they can work in the context of nuclear. Many of the skills across nuclear, or oil and gas, or any other industry, are transferable engineering and science skills.

Q67 Chairman: Do you share that, Michael?

Michael Grave: I certainly do. Not with a BNES hat on, my company works in all the major industries such as oil and gas, conventional power, nuclear, and we are basically looking for graduate chemical engineers, mechanical engineers and project managers, which is another area that is particularly difficult to get hold of. These graduate trainees, when they come into the company, could end up in any industry at the end of the day and I strongly support what Clive said that it is important to get people with the right sort of engineering good general background qualifications at the beginning and then we can give them career development training into other areas.

Q68 Chairman: Robert, do you share that view?

Robert Skelton: Yes, I think that is correct. One of the problems that the nuclear industry has got is that it was the industry to go into in the 1950s and 1960; it was the growth industry, so of course the age profile is significantly higher than perhaps most others. I know from the Institution of Nuclear Engineers, our age profile is significantly weighted towards the older age group, although in fact it quite surprised me to see that applies to professional engineers in general, it is not just nuclear engineers.

Q69 Chairman: Can I raise this issue with you, when I was a young chap and the first wave of nuclear power stations were being built and nuclear engineering was very lively in our universities and in colleges at technician level, it was all basically owned by the Government. It was under one roof and since then it has been fragmented significantly to a point at which it is very much now all within the private sector, within different small pieces. If you take, for instance, the decision about Westinghouse being sold off, is not the fragmentation of the industry causing the skills problems as well?

Robert Skelton: It makes the industry less attractive. We are beginning to see the corner turned on this one, we are seeing organisations like the NBA setting up graduate training programmes. Certainly a lot of graduates, I am also from the University of Cambridge and the chemical engineering departments there, and the graduates like to go into companies where they can see good training and a good future. To train people in general engineering with perhaps specialities in nuclear engineering is really the way to go, because I think it is more attractive to both the companies and the students. I, personally, think fragmentation is a very big problem. When I joined the industry, it was either the Atomic Energy Authority, BNFL or CGB and that was basically it.

Q70 Graham Stringer: Has not the fragmentation and privatisation meant that there are higher salaries at the top end for engineers?

Robert Skelton: At the top end, yes, but I am not certain just how far down that applies. I do not honestly know. People like to see a training programme, someone who can give them an integrated training programme and that is why our students in chemical engineering would far rather go into companies like the oil companies, Proctor & Gamble, the big companies like that are much more attractive to them generally than the smaller companies.

Q71 Chairman: But, Clive, not so long ago, the BNFL would have offered exactly the sorts of career path and opportunities that Robert is talking about and as far as training, it had a reputation that was very high indeed in terms of training and progression. Do you think that the National Nuclear Laboratory is going to fill that gap?

Clive Smith: It might, in part. We were talking about the fragmentation being part of the picture. The other part of the picture was the image of the industry; it was very much a nuclear industry in decline. Everything was working towards shut-down, towards decommissioning and, whilst there are some pretty exciting challenges in decommissioning, the overall perception is knocking things down. For a young graduate, newly-qualified technician or craftsman, knocking something down does not seem quite as bright and exciting as building something new and operating a new plant and getting to grips with running a new plant. The image of the industry as well was something that was not attractive for this limited field of engineers and scientists to come in. The formation of the National Nuclear Laboratory, the potential for new build and all of these initiatives - I think you heard at the last session, the numbers are increasing, it is pretty crude and rough data, but the number of students of the Birmingham MSC is the most this year that they have ever had; there are universities opening up nuclear undergraduate courses. So it is becoming more exciting and more people are now starting to come in, and starting up the NNL will assist in that perception.

Q72 Chairman: Michael, just briefly, is the NNL a good idea?

Michael Grave: Yes, it is a good idea. I am doing some work with the National Nuclear Laboratory at the moment, in terms of the European Framework programmes that you mentioned, in the field of decommissioning. I rather agree with one of the previous speakers at the previous session who was concerned about whether they will get involved in fundamental forward thinking research or not. The bit I deal with at the moment is very much associated with decommissioning.

Q73 Dr Blackman-Woods: Given that the shortage in nuclear engineering skills is an international problem, do you think the United Kingdom will be able to attract people with the necessary skills, even if we load points into our points system to attract nuclear engineers here? Is that really going to happen?

Robert Skelton: So much depends on career prospects and the end of the stop-go policy, which is another thing that has put people off. We have had this stop-go policy for so long. The last major project I was involved in was Sizewell B. It was going to be one of six reactors and everybody was extremely enthusiastic; we were going to have a new design and were going to build six of them for once. We only built four of them. We have got to show some continuity to attract anybody, both from overseas or from the United Kingdom.

Clive Smith: I want to back up what Robert just said. All the messages coming out are for a bright, attractive and vibrant industry, and that should assist in that attraction.

Michael Grave: You must not forget about the excitement of the part of the industry; the thing that excites companies; the level that my company works from is the possibility of making a profit. You put your business plan together and then you can recruit the people. The energy industry in general at the moment is so buoyant, it is quite easy to recruit new people into the industry because there is a big future seen there. You have got two sorts of problems: not only is there a world situation about the nuclear industry, but there is a big world resurgence in energy in general at the moment and there are other energy industries competing with the nuclear industry for resources as well. I have just been to the German nuclear annual conference in Hamburg a few weeks ago, and almost the identical stories were being told over there that we have got here. It is a pretty worldwide problem, as you say.

Q74 Dr Blackman-Woods: Ideally, putting the current shortages aside and looking at what we would really like, what would the skills landscape look like in order to ensure that we can move forward in the United Kingdom to new build intelligently? What would we need that we have not got, or what would you like to see?

Clive Smith: A much larger pool of engineers and scientists in the United Kingdom from which all our industries can fish from. That is a big joining-up problem across Government, not just for the support to make different energy solutions, but across the universities and the school sectors, making sure that were getting a constant message to have that pull-through of people.

Michael Grave: It is not only getting the engineers, it is getting the school children motivated right and getting a joined-up path from school children through to university through post‑graduates and PhDs and continuous development right to the end of their careers. And not only at the engineering professional levels, it is important to have the technicians and supporting people with the skills and the trades. Underpinning all that, it is important that we need scientists as well, because engineers basically start off studying science in most cases.

Q75 Dr Blackman-Woods: Is the capability of the supply chain necessary to deliver new nuclear power stations important as well?

Michael Grave: The supply chain capability will appear, in our experience, if there is the market to do it; engineering companies will come along and do it.

Robert Skelton: A guaranteed market for more than one reactor, that is the problem. If we can see, as they have in France, a guarantee that Britain is going to implement a nuclear power programme then, not just the education establishment, but everybody will see that it is worthwhile tooling up to do it.

Michael Grave: The slight risk is that the company that owns the company that I work for is building five nuclear power stations at the moment in Korea and we are invited "if you fancy a career in Korea, to go and work in Korea", so there is a draw all over the world for engineers. We have a lot of Koreans over here as well.

Clive Smith: That would be very much a global supply chain.

Michael Grave: It is a global issue.

Q76 Mr Marsden: I would like to go down a bit on this skills shortages issue, but if I can take you back to something that was just said in response to the Chairman to Roberta: you talked about the industry having a bright, attractive, vibrant future, and the Chairman referred to his salad days when it was the done thing to go into this area. That was the time when we were all moonstruck too and we know what happened to some elements of that. The serious point I want to make is, you are talking about having this grand design connecting between schools, colleges and universities, do you not still have a major image and cultural obstacle to overcome? The written evidence that we had from the Department about the actual diversity in the nuclear industry at the moment says, "The nuclear industry is 82% male, and overwhelmingly white, with females mostly in stereotypical roles". First of all, is that a fair description at the moment, and if it is a fair description and you think it is something you need to overcome, how are you going to overcome it?

Clive Smith: I thought the percentage of white males was higher than that in the nuclear industry, so it has been quite generous. We have discussed the history of the industry and it went into decline. There was not a large recruitment; many of the people who were recruited into the industry in the 1960s and 1970s into engineering jobs, particularly the nuclear industry, were white and male. There is also a geographical factor; the diversity around the remote sites where many of the nuclear power stations come from is a generally white population; it is not reflective of the multicultural city mix and so we will not ever get it towards a much greater mix, but there is the ability to increase the gender and ethnic mix.

Robert Skelton: There is an historic factor here. When I joined the industry, and most of us did, to join the Atomic Energy Authority or BFNL, no matter at what sort of level you were working, you needed a fairly high level of security clearance. Even contractors, way into the 1980s, had to be United Kingdom citizens. It was not just the Ministry of Defence projects or BFNL projects in those days, which automatically of course tends to bias you certainly towards the white, if not necessarily male.

Q77 Mr Marsden: I hope you are not going to suggest that women would be less secure than men.

Robert Skelton: No, but it must be the age profile of the industry. In my undergraduate days, there probably was not a single woman in engineering. Even now, at Cambridge, we have only got about 20%.

Q78 Mr Marsden: Is this a problem?

Michael Grave: I see it as something else. We have an organisation in the Receipt of Energy Centre which we call the Young Generation Network and, interestingly, against all the trends, since the enthusiasm for decommissioning and nuclear and even keeping the existing stations operational, our membership has changed from about 1,000 people with 10% of people who we call young - and I will not tell you why it is under the age of 37, but there is a reason for that - now 40% of our membership is of the YGN age and we have about ,1500 or 1,600, and 50% of the chairmen of the YGN in the last six years have been women and very good at that, in fact.

Q79 Mr Marsden: Can we move to the issue of competition. We have heard from U-Plan that they believe there is going to be competition between decommissioning and new build for talent in this sector. Is that inevitable; is it a good thing or a bad thing?

Clive Smith: It is inevitable, and if you take the military programmes also, the competition derived from their programmes, it is an inevitable fact that the industry has got to get over and ensure that salaries are attractive enough to retain people within the legacy part of the programmes, as well as the new build.

Q80 Mr Marsden: Is it showing new build to do that?

Clive Smith: We have not actually started much on the new build yet, so there is little evidence.

Q81 Mr Marsden: So, it is too early to tell. Can I move on to the issue of the qualification levels at which there is a shortage of engineers and perhaps again to take the view from Clive, although I welcome the comments from Michael and others as well. According to the graph that was submitted to us by Cogent and NSAN, there appears to be an oversupply of engineers at NVQ levels 1, 4 and 5, and a shortage at levels 2 and 3. Why, therefore, has the discussion around the solutions to skill shortages been so focused on universities. Again, picking up your previous point about the seamless track, do we need to do more in FE colleges and industry in providing nuclear engineers?

Clive Smith: From the last session, where it was mainly the HE sector, certainly the discussion there would have been focused on 4 and 5. The NVQ level 1, I think we can discount; there are very few elementary trades, much less than 5% of the industry are at that level, and that is part of making sure that people leave school with the right levels of qualification. Generally, for the people entering the industry, the bottom qualification is NVQ level 2. We are starting to get solutions and see a seamless track through there; the implementation of the diplomas in engineering and in 2011, the diploma in science will give qualification routes through from the traditional GCSEs but now in the diplomas, entry into foundation degrees, foundation degrees up into honours degrees, to give learning and career pathways for people to progress, and also the right qualifications for people to operate a skilled trade or technicians.

Q82 Mr Marsden: Michael, Robert, do you see that in your areas?

Michael Grave: I marginally agree with that. In the industry I work in, we are largely concerned with keeping existing nuclear power stations going and our work focuses largely on trade with people who progress to become site engineers and site managers. I was reading an article in the paper the other day by Sir John Rose from Rolls Royce, who was making a comment that a large number of their apprentices go on through career development to getting a degree at some stage. There is going to be an interchange between people who perhaps start off at what I call a skilled trade level who, through career progression, also eventually get degrees. It is quite a complex matter.

Q83 Mr Marsden: There are lots of ins and outs.

Michael Grave: Yes, lots of ins and outs.

Robert Skelton: There is a problem, not just faced by the nuclear industry. Bodies like the Health Service face this sort of problem as well. There is a significant shortage at technician level, which is basically where that gap appears. I wonder if it is partly because of the way our education system has gone. Many people in the past may have been interested in a career, becoming an apprentice, or joining organisations, say, post-O-level as technical trainees at various levels, experimental officers, to use the old Civil Service term. These people now go on to something totally different. It is almost a national problem which we really have to address. Countries like Germany perhaps address this a lot better. Coming from Cambridge, I am a little bit biased, but I am not 100% certain that sending so many people on degrees in various non-technical subjects is really the right thing for the nation. It is a reflection of our education policy that this gap has opened up and people who in the past would have become technicians, experimental officers, now go off elsewhere.

Q84 Graham Stringer: I want to go back to something we have touched on before. The Government are changing the image of the nuclear industry from being a sunset industry to having more of a future. Is there anything the industry itself can do to change that image as well? The Government has given it a big boost, is there anything else that can be done? What else would you do to change the image?

Clive Smith: It has been in the background that the media reported the contamination, the dirty image of the industry, that is very much cleaned up. I do not think there is an awful lot more the industry can do to present itself now as the clean industry for the future. It has put a lot of effort into making sure its image is much better than it certainly has been in the past.

Michael Grave: One of the things that concerns us in the British Nuclear Energy Society - we do not represent the industry, we represent professional people who work in it - was that one of the fragmentation issues, which somebody raised earlier, has led to a lot of the visitor centres at nuclear power stations, which have always been a major source of keeping the public informed, are not there. There is one very good example still left at Sellafield, which does excellent work, but in the British Nuclear Energy Society, when we were looking at our education and training initiatives that we might do in the future, I remember pointing out to our trustees two or three years ago that the British public at some stage are probably going to have to be in a position to make a political decision, if you like, on new build and therefore the public needed to be made aware of the issues of nuclear power. So, we are funding this year, for example, out of our education and training committee, a small study by somebody at City University, to look to see how we could possibly make up this deficiency which has started to develop. We would not be able to do it on our own, but we are looking at the issues that might improve knowledge exchange amongst the public at large, not just the engineering people who we normally work with.

Q85 Graham Stringer: That is a very interesting point. Why is Sellafield so different from other nuclear installations? Why are they not all doing it?

Robert Skelton: What happened, as I understand it, the old CGB used to have excellent visitor centres at all of their power stations; they used to lay on all sorts of things for schools and did a marvellous public relations job. When British Energy got into their serious financial difficulties - what must be four or five years ago - they basically closed all of their visitor centres as an economy measure. We used to take people to Sizewell and that closed; as far as I know they have all closed. It was a commercial decision taken at the time when they were in a very serious financial position. Most of the buildings are still there and it is time they thought very seriously about reopening them.

Q86 Graham Stringer: That is very interesting. We talked a lot about skills gaps and shortages, are the solutions in training and skills gap, are they primarily resource-based financial, or are there structural changes that can be made?

Clive Smith: There was a general lack of apprenticeships at one stage. The new National Apprenticeship Service is coming on; the National Skills Academy for Nuclear is invigorating apprenticeships for nuclear, which will assist in filling what could be classified as a structural gap, in that we were not putting apprentices through the system. There is a lot of work going on in filling that gap and putting in place apprenticeships and through the network of regional training providers that NSAN is establishing, making sure that there is sufficient joined up thinking between the colleges and industry to provide those apprenticeships in the areas where they are required and to an acceptable quality assured standard.

Q87 Graham Stringer: Can you tell us how the nuclear skills passport will help in this process and is that passport tailored to apprenticeship level or to the authoritative intelligent customer capability?

Clive Smith: It is focused across the skills pyramid. The work being done at the moment takes it up to about the NVQ level 3 and 4, but the ambition is to make it go through the whole of the skills pyramid and it will include within it the apprenticeships. Initially, the backbone of the passport, the Nuclear Industry Training Framework, will be to lodge four qualifications but with a view to, by 2010, putting on bite-sized qualifications so that people can see what qualifications they have got, what they need to achieve to continue to move up through the learning pathway and the career progression pathway, all the way from entry NVQ level 2 up through level NVQ level 4.

Q88 Dr Iddon: We are also looking at the Leitch Report with respect to skills across the engineering sector. One of the things that comes out is that there are just too many organisations trying to do essentially the same thing. Does that apply to your industry also?

Robert Skelton: Basically, we knew this question was coming, or at least we thought there was a good chance that it would. The first thing we can say is that Michael and I at the moment represent two different organisations and we have come today from a meeting where we are discussing merging, and it is almost certain that the two bodies in the nuclear industry will be merged by the end of the year. There are a lot of engineering institutions; we are looking at ways of working more closely. We have had discussions with the Institution of Chemical Engineers to see how we can work more closely with them. We are doing our best to ensure that in terms of our learned society activities, organising meetings, etc., all the major engineering institutions work together. Historically, it is just the way things have developed and I am sure you will know that many people - going back to Sir Monty Finniston and quite a few other people - have tried to knock their heads together of the various engineering institutions with very little success. It is a system which, in the United Kingdom, does actually seem to work.

Michael Grave: I would just like to add a comment to that. The BNES was actually founded in 1962 by all the major professional institutions, recognising that there needed to be a co‑ordinated nuclear approach. It is nothing new and continues today and will form part of the new Nuclear Institute also and we continue to work closely with all the other professional institutions. It is very important. Not only that, putting an industrial side on it, one of the big problems that we found in our company is the different training qualifications that are required if you want to work with this nuclear site here and that nuclear site there. Our big hope and aspiration, and we support it 100%, lots of industries are joining and working on NSAN which is driven by industry need and the big hope is that NSAN will succeed in getting certain skills development level all working together and singing off the same hymn sheet. I sit on one of the NSAN steering committees as a BNES representative and I am quite heartened about what I am seeing in terms of doing this. Somebody said earlier that we have some concerns as a citizen about skills but looking at what is going on in NSAN with the places, I have also got a lot of confidence for the future that we will sort these problems out.

Clive Smith: The funding routes are quite tortuous and diverse and it is being able to understand where they come from to assist industry. Much of industry is confused about where it can draw the funding down from NSCs, from RDAs and other sources; through the assistance of NSAN that should help in co-ordinating those funding routes.

Q89 Dr Iddon: I know of Cogent because I am a chemist and it represents pretty well all the chemical industry, but it represents quite a varied sector of industry, including your own. How successful has Cogent been for the nuclear industry?

Clive Smith: Very successful. It has managed to pull the employers together to try and undo some of that fragmentation and through establishing and now launching the National Skills Academy for Nuclear within the Cogent footprint, providing a real deliverables vehicle for training and education for the nuclear industry. Whilst you have said it is diverse, it is the same engineering science skills required by the chemical industry, as required by nuclear, as required by oil and gas - Piper Alpha has been in the news again this week - a big safety regulated industry through the HSE, the same as nuclear. Much of the same basic skills and safety regulatory requirements come to the fore in all those industries.

Q90 Dr Iddon: You mentioned Germany, Robert, as being a country which may get skills training better than ourselves. Do you admire any other countries? The French have got the biggest nuclear fleet per capita, is their system of training skills for their industry better than ours and better than Germany's? Who is ahead? Who should we be looking at as a model?

Robert Skelton: I must admit, I find it hard to comment too much beyond the graduate level. I used to work in industry and I know that a shortage of technicians has always been a problem.

Q91 Chairman: The question was, who else is there as a model?

Robert Skelton: Yes, I wonder if Clive has a better view on this.

Clive Smith: I do not think I am qualified to answer that.

Michael Grave: I cannot answer that except to give you an anecdote. It was a statement by a German human resources person to me in Hamburg the other week, who envied the system we had in the United Kingdom.

Chairman: Well, I think on that note of self-congratulation, we will end this session. Clive Smith OBE, Robert Skelton and Michael Grave, thank you very much indeed for joining us this afternoon.