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A new nuclear generation is upon us, with decommissioning and now new build. But how are we going to fill the skill shortage?

Two weeks ago energy minister Malcolm Wicks and skills minister David Lammy officially launched the National Skills Academy for Nuclear, a body set up to coordinate training for the UK nuclear sector.

With the Government's recent backing for a new generation of nuclear power stations fresh in the mind, one could be forgiven for thinking the academy is an initiative aimed at gearing up towards a nuclear construction boom in 2020.

While this is partly true, there is a far more urgent need to encourage young people and engineers from other areas to acquire the skills to work in the nuclear sector: 80% of its 50,000 strong workforce are in their fifties and due to retire within the next few years.

At the same time, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) is in the process of spending £73bn decommissioning 20 closed nuclear facilities, with seven of the 10 remaining operational sites also due to close during the next decade.

"Over the next 10 years we will need to recruit an additional 10,000 people to the sector," says National Skills Academy for Nuclear chief executive Jean Llewellyn.

"This will roughly comprise of two thirds engineering graduates and one third apprenticeships for skilled trades. With new build you're looking at an additional 4,000 jobs in the construction phase and 3,000 once the plants are operational."

The huge demand that decommissioning is placing on the sector's ageing workforce is one of the main driving factors behind the National Skills Academy for Nuclear's establishment. Llewellyn will be outlining the pressures on the sector's supply chain and how they can be overcome when she speaks at NCE's Nuclear Decommissioning conference in Manchester on Wednesday 5 March.

The Academy's role is not to actually train people, but to create a nuclear training network of colleges that can provide the apprenticeships and professional qualifications the industry needs; it will focus on these types of qualifications and have little to do with existing civil engineering degrees at universities.

As part of its mission to increase the sector's skill base, the Academy will also look at accrediting employers' training schemes that bring engineers with expertise in other areas into the sector, or help those already in the sector acquire the different skills required for decommissioning as opposed to operational and maintenance work.

"Employers do a lot of training in nuclear but at the moment it is not recognised," says Llewellyn.

"With our Nuclear Credit Framework, we will identify the best and give those courses credits that can count towards a qualification."

She adds that this will not only help those already in the sector boost their CVs, but it will also make the sector more attractive to young people.

"It makes the sector look more attractive as it's one where you can progress."

The Academy also aims to make it easier for nuclear employers to see how well trained their staff are, with the launch of a web-based skills passport for the industry. This will list online all the accredited employers' courses and professional qualifications that employees have sat, giving details of performance and grades.

As well as Llewellyn, next month's conference will feature speakers from the NDA, the UK Atomic Energy Authority, Sellafield and numerous consultants and contractors.

Many will be focusing on the various ways that the decommissioning programme can be de-risked, from meeting the skills shortage to reducing waste to accurately calculating project costs and timescales.

The industry's ability to keep control of costs was recently thrown into the spotlight by a critical National Audit Office report. This showed that the estimated cost of decomissioning had gone up 30% between 2003 and 2007, and stands at £73bn.

Magnox North Trawsfynydd site director Simon Parsons says it was inevitable that costs forecasts would change in the early years of the programme.

"The reason costs have gone up is that we understand better what we have to deal with on these old nuclear sites," says Parsons, also a speaker at next month's conference.

- NCE's Nuclear Decommissioning conference takes place at the Renaissance Hotel, Manchester on Wednesday 5 March. For more information go to or call 0845 056 8069.

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