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Power people

Overview With the first major projects going to tender this summer, bidders are vying for the personnel and skills to decommission successfully.

Nuclear decommissioning projects worth in excess of £50bn will be awarded over the next 40 years.

The government's Nuclear Decommissioning Authority - a client body that formally took shape last April (NCE 24 March 2005) - has been briefed to accelerate the pace at which the UK's 20 civil nuclear sites are cleaned up.

First major 'tier one' contracts are due to be tendered this summer and bidders are jostling for position. Alliances are being finalised - former site operator and now interim site manager UKAEA announced in February that it has teamed up UK contractor Amec and US fi rm CH2M Hill. Key personnel are being headhunted.

Getting staff with the right skills is one of the top priorities among the big players. UK engineers with relevant nuclear credentials and experience are in short supply. To get round this problem consultant UKAEA and Atkins are setting up their own internal training academies (News 2 March). Others are looking to other parts of the world.

'There's a lot of expertise in the former Soviet Union, where there were secret 'nuclear cities' devoted entirely to the weapons programme, ' says White Young Green chief operating officer Richard McCaffrey. 'These are now economic disaster areas.

We're helping run EU-funded retraining programmes for engineers there, and this is a valuable potential resource.'

American expertise is also available.

But UKAEA spokesman Andy Munn says: 'We don't need nuclear physicists. The real demand is for engineers and technologists with programme management skills and experience of complex, demanding engineering - they can be trained in working with radiation later.' He adds: 'Our experience suggests that dealing with the masses of asbestos in the old nuclear sites is very nearly as challenging as the radioactive material itself.'

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