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UK lacks skills to build new nuclear power stations

Britain will be unable to build a new generation of nuclear power station because there is a chronic skills shortage, energy engineers warned yesterday.

They warned that the UK civil engineering industry no longer has the skills to design nuclear facilities, and the supply chain no longer exists to deliver them.

Speaking at Civils 2007 Mott MacDonald energy director Simon Harrison said that delivering UK nuclear new build, expected to be given the green light by the government early next year, would be extremely difficult.

"There's likely to be a rush of projects bundled together [causing] a great strain on the supply chain, including skills," said Harrison at Civils 2007's Sustainable Energy Generation conference.

Harrison added that building up the skills base for nuclear power station building could take many years.

"We need to raise our game significantly in terms of building up the project management and programme management skills."

Harrison was backed by Doosan Babcock technology director Dr Mike Farley, who told the conference that skills shortages were very acute across the whole power station building sector.

"There are very limited resources for building new plants and, in particular, design and engineering resources for turbines," Farley said.

"A lot of the capacity in the industry is taken up. We would like to expand our construction labour in readiness for a boom, but can't until we know when it's coming and how much."

A decision on whether to build new nuclear power stations is expected early in the New Year, following the recent close of the government's nuclear consultation. Prime Minister Gordon Brown said this week in a speech on tackling climate change that nuclear was "potentially" part of the solution.

But Harrison warned that the market could not respond to a sudden demand in the UK. The global market was likely to be saturated responding to massive demand for decommissioning and refurbishment with decommissioning worth £72.7bn in the UK alone (see below).

Only one factory in Japan was currently making the ultra heavy forgings needed for nuclear power stations and two US utilities were currently buying them all up, which was likely to force prices up to very high levels, he added.

"The supply chain for nuclear at the moment is really, really difficult," said Harrison.

"Two or three years ago, the UK nuclear market was like a closing-down sale but now that nuclear power has become really fashionable again but the shop hasn't ordered new stock.

"They would love to sell you a new nuclear power station, but they haven't got any."

The Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) has said it will create a Nuclear Skills Academy to boost industry skills resources.

"We will need to work with industry and others to take forward practical solutions to a number of issues," said a BERR spokesman.
"This could include the level of resource needed to undertake the generic design assessment process."


The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) unveiled its budget for the coming three years earlier this month, following the government's comprehensive spending review in October.

A budget of Ł8.5bn over the next three years represents an increase of Ł670M over the previous three years. While the NDA was not able to put a price on the decommissioning of the nuclear estate, last month it nevertheless raised its clean-up estimate by more than 12% to £72.7bn.

The increased estimate was, according to the NDA draft business plan, down to an "improved understanding of the estate".

NDA chief executive Ian Roxburgh said the majority of funds over the next three years would be focused on Sellafield and Dounreay.

The first year's allocated budget is Ł2.8bn with around 60% of this being spent on hazard reduction to the detriment of the 25-year programme for the clean-up of Magnox sites as proposed in 2006

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