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Britain's nuclear power ambition needs investment in training

Britain’s nuclear power ambitions will only be realised if generators, contractors and consultants invest in training to upskill the UK supply chain, a lead contractor said last week.

Balfour Beatty chief operating officer Andrew McNaughton said that people working in the nuclear power plants supply chain would need retraining so they can deliver new nuclear facilities.

McNaughton was speaking as his firm agreed a deal to deliver French reactor manufacturer Areva’s European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) in the UK.

“We need to start investigating the knowledge development that the supply chain needs to make [to deliver new nuclear power stations],” he said.

The National Skills Academy for Nuclear estimates the sector will need to recruit an additional 10,000 people over the next 10 years. At the same time 80% of the existing 50,000 strong workforce is older than 50.

Balfour Beatty will work with Areva to identify the skills and resources in the civils sector that are needed to deliver a fleet of EPRs. Rolls Royce is working with Areva on mechanical and electrical equipment supply issues.

Areva president Luc Oursel said the UK’s new build programme could be as large as 20GW to 25GW, although to date only generators EDF and E.ON have ambitions to build new plants.

EDF is set to take over eight of the UK’s 10 operational nuclear plants with a £12.5bn takeover of British Energy. It intends to build four new nuclear reactors in the UK, with the first to be operational by 2017.

E.ON plans to build two new nuclear reactors, although it has yet to secure any UK sites.

E.ON has signalled its willingness to use either Areva or Westinghouse
reactors in its facilities.

Both designs are making their way through a design assessment process, due to complete in 2011.

The government’s Generic Design Assessment (GDA) process for the licencing of new reactors for use in the UK aims for only one or two reactor designs across all new nuclear plants.

This is intended is to reduce decommissioning costs. The current decommissioning programme will be relatively expensive because no two nuclear power stations are the same.

The government’s GDA process is in its second phase. Despite uncertainty about which reactors will be approved, Oursel said it was time to start investing in the supply chain.

He added that he was confident the EPR would be approved in the GDA process and that Areva could deliver cost-eff ective nuclear power. But the only two EPRs currently under construction are running late and over budget.

Construction costs at EDF’s EPR at Flamanville, Normandy are up by a fifth from initial forecasts. The EPR under construction at Olkiluoto, western Finland, is not expected to open until 2012, three years later than planned.

In a separate development, Balfour Beatty has formed a joint venture with Vinci Construction to help deliver project management, construction and civil engineering infrastructure for the EPR programme in the UK.

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