Engineering: turning ideas into reality: Government Response to the Committee's Fourth Report - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents

Nuclear engineering: skills

2. The Generic Design Assessment (GDA) process is important and requires highly skilled inspectors. The Government should make available sufficient resources to the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency so that they can recruit enough staff to complete the GDA process in a timely fashion and to the high standards required. A clear timetable should be published by the end of 2009. (Paragraph 33)

The GDA process is a high priority for Government and is on the critical path in facilitating nuclear new build. Government is confident that GDA can be completed by June 2011 at the latest.

Effective regulation is a key aspect of this and we recognise the importance of ensuring that the nuclear regulators are sufficiently well resourced to undertake both GDA and their existing responsibilities to the same high standards that they always have. In particular, we recognise that the Nuclear Directorate of the Health and Safety Executive (ND) needs additional resources for its predicted future workload, both with and without new nuclear build.

In working to remedy this issue, a 3 year pay deal has been agreed for nuclear inspectors as part of the overall 2008-10 HSE Pay Settlement agreed in April 2009. Measures to improve recruitment as well as retention of inspectors close to or past retirement age are included.

In the longer term the ND will be restructured and the new organisation will have greater organisational and financial flexibility, which will enable it to resource itself in the context of a competitive recruitment market. The Environment Agency report no such resource issues for GDA.

3. We note the Government's optimism that delivering new nuclear power stations within ten years is possible. However, we are not convinced that the skills shortage in nuclear engineering can be bridged quite as easily as some have suggested. In particular, the General Design Assessment, which kick-starts the whole process, is already running slower than expected, and the remaining workforce is ageing. The Government must continue its investment in engineering and nuclear engineering skills and produce a clear skills plan by the end of 2009 (see Paragraph 33), to ensure its nuclear new build ambitions can be met. (Paragraph 41)

The Government recognises the challenge of ensuring that the UK has enough skilled workers to maintain and decommission existing nuclear power stations as well as building new ones. We recognise the need to have a greater understanding of what skills will be required to ensure its nuclear new build ambitions can be met. The Office for Nuclear Development is currently working with BIS, Cogent (Sector Skills Council for the nuclear sector), the National Skills Academy for Nuclear, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Construction Skills and the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board to complete a study which will provide a detailed and holistic skills and capability plan for new nuclear build. This work will provide a clear picture of what skills are needed, how many and when from the initial stages of new nuclear build right through to the generating and commissioning stage. This plan should allow us to foresee any potential skills gaps and direct resources to close these gaps before they appear. This piece of work will be complete by Autumn 2009.

4. We welcome the formation of the National Skills Academy for Nuclear: employer-led training is the best way to ensure that industry gets the skills it requires. However, we also believe that there should be greater clarity from industry and Government about which institutions do what in terms of skills provision. (Paragraph 47)

The National Skills Academy for Nuclear has a clear remit to develop and promote skills and career pathways within the UK nuclear industry and to ensure that the capacity exists to deliver skills to meet the different skill needs across the civil and defence programmes. It is employer-led, reflecting the breadth of its industry through its board and associate membership.

The Government believes that the programmes to develop skills within the energy sector and nuclear industry represent exemplary practice. The UK Commission on Employment and Skills has been asked by Government to advise on simplifying the skills system, so that whether accessing publically funded training or not, we do not just end up with a proliferation of schemes but a truly integrated and strategic approach to meeting demand for skills. The Office for Nuclear Development has developed a detailed skills map, in consultation with other government departments, skills bodies and higher education institutions, to provide greater clarity on the roles and responsibilities of the various institutions with an interest in nuclear skills. This map provides an explanation as to what the various bodies do as well as detailing the links, interactions and funding routes between them. This map was published in January 2009 and is available at the following link:

This map will be updated as the nuclear skills landscape develops.

The National Skills Academy for Nuclear and Cogent, the Sector Skills Council responsible for nuclear, are currently leading on a detailed review and analysis of the future skills challenges and issues facing the sector for Autumn 2009 and will complement the skills and capability plan for new nuclear outlined above. This will inform the National Skills Academy for Nuclear's five year plan. This will ensure that the National Skills Academy for Nuclear is absolutely focused on addressing both current and future strategic skill needs across the nuclear sector and ensuring that there is capacity available to deliver it.

5. The design of fourth generation nuclear reactors will go ahead with or without UK participation, and it is likely that the UK will want to start building fourth generation power stations in the future. The UK should avoid positioning itself so that it has little expertise in the very nuclear systems it needs in the future. In a post-oil economy, nuclear power will be a major player in the energy market and the UK should grasp enthusiastically the opportunity to take a lead role in the international nuclear industry. (Paragraph 50)

The Government's priority on nuclear energy is to create the right conditions to enable the private sector to invest in new nuclear power stations. This would be based on existing nuclear technologies, not fourth generation reactors that are not expected to be built commercially until 2030 or beyond. Research into aspects of fourth generation nuclear reactors will continue to receive funding through the UK Research Councils and the European Union Euratom Research Framework Programme. The UK Research Councils' current portfolio of grants with direct relevance to fourth generation reactor systems runs at around £1.2m per annum. Euratom is an active member of the Generation IV International Forum (GIF), which co-ordinates international research efforts into some of the more promising advanced reactors systems. These research opportunities will enable the UK to keep in touch with technological developments and participate in leading edge international research projects where it has experience and expertise.

6. The Government should consider which research programmes—including the Generation IV programme, EURATOM, and IAEA and OECD research programmes—are required to support its nuclear activities. We strongly recommend that the Government commission the National Nuclear Laboratory to conduct a cost-benefit analysis on what international R&D offers the UK in relation to maintaining UK nuclear engineering capability and ensuring future UK energy policy is supported. (Paragraph 52)

The Government recognises the benefits of international collaboration and the UK will continue to take a lead role in the international nuclear scene. The UK is historically a strong participant in the EU's Research Framework Programme Euratom and has played a key role in the more recently established Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP). GNEP is focused on making nuclear power readily available worldwide in the near future, while reducing the risks of non-proliferation.

Most recently, in March this year, the Prime Minister said that the UK would lead on bringing forward proposals internationally for multilateral control of the fuel cycle and would seek an innovative partnership between industry, academia and government for further research and development to tackle the technical challenges involved in developing a proliferation-proof nuclear fuel cycle.

A consortium led by Serco with Battelle and The University of Manchester was appointed in April as commercial operators to run the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) and a new management team is now in place. The Government's vision is for a successful centre of excellence, serving primarily the needs of legacy nuclear waste clean up but also extending beyond this to seek wider opportunities. The NNL will have a "hub and spoke model" that will allow it to link up with wider UK nuclear research capability and international organisations. In developing its operations the NNL will be looking closely at international research opportunities and will be well placed to keep Government informed.

7. We support the formation of the Office for Nuclear Development, but remain concerned about the lack of a clear and detailed plan for delivering the next generation of nuclear power stations. There should be a master roadmap for all major engineering projects, including nuclear new build. The Office for Nuclear Development should take ownership of the roadmap for nuclear. The roadmap should include consideration of: what skills are required over time and what will be needed to deliver the skills capacity ahead of time; other general engineering programmes and nuclear engineering programmes, both national and international; potential bottlenecks in the supply chain; and who is responsible for the delivery of each part of the roadmap. There should be six-monthly progress reports against the roadmap. The roadmap should be in place by the end of 2009. (Paragraph 57)

The Government welcomes the notion that there should be a master road-map in place for all major engineering projects including new nuclear. The Office for Nuclear Development published an integrated programme plan for new nuclear in January 2009. This timeline shows how the various workstreams in the nuclear programme fit together, and who is responsible for what, to enable the first new nuclear power stations to be built by around 2018. The skills and capability plan which is currently underway will be designed in conjunction with this roadmap so that the two timelines can be used together. The programme plan has been well received by industry, and is used as a common template for those involved in delivering new nuclear power in the UK. We will continue to work closely with industry to develop and update the plan over the coming months. This programme plan is available at: .

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