Today’s revival of the nuclear reactor building programme could create “huge pressure” for skills, requiring far more jobs than the government expects.
CITB-ConstructionSkills estimates that 15,000 related roles will need to be filled, based on work it did with Experian in anticipation of the nuclear reactor programme eventually restarting.
Japanese technology firm Hitachi has acquired the Horizon Nuclear Power joint venture for £696m, and now plans to build between four and six nuclear plants at Oldbury, Gloucestershire and Wylfa, Anglesey.
CSkills expects skills shortages in areas such as tunnelling, concrete steel fixing and some specialist plant operations unless the industry is able to train more people in these fields.
A spokesman said the organisation had calculated that each new reactor would require 400,000 cu m of concrete, 2,500 km of cabling and 100 km of pipework “so it will place a huge demand on those parts of the industry and the skills required”.
Horizon was created in 2009 as a joint venture by RWE and E.On, but they pulled out in March citing better investment potential elsewhere.
Following Hitachi’s deal the first plant could be feeding electricity into the grid in the early 2020s and is expected to be 60 per cent sourced from the UK.
Prime minister David Cameron said the programme could create 12,000 construction jobs, but CSkills said its higher estimate came from a wider interpretation of jobs created in the supply chain.
In an exclusive interview, energy minister John Hayes told CN: “The vote of confidence in government policy is palpable in this purchase. If Hitachi were uncertain about our policy, I can only assume they wouldn’t have acted in the way they have.”
He added that the government had “often understated” the significance of energy infrastructure for growth.
Mr Hayes said he would be “stepping up the process” by which skilled workers are made available, adding: “I want nuclear to play a bigger part than ever in our energy mix”.
CSkills chief executive Mark Farrar said the organisation had already announced plans to devote £2m to training a skilled workforce for the nuclear industry.
“The programme presents huge skills, training and employment opportunities,” he said.
“New specialist skills and training products will be developed, including new apprenticeship routes, leadership and management courses, and health and safety training programmes.”
Hitachi’s move was welcomed in the industry. Laing O’Rourke executive director Howard Shipleesaid: “I believe that this announcement is a great boost for UK plc and demonstrates the confidence which overseas investors have in UK construction and engineering to deliver.
“With Horizon and EDF we are seeing the rebirth of our nuclear industry and a balanced provision of power for the future.”
Mr Shiplee, the former Olympics construction chief, had called on government to commit to nuclear and show investors that the UK is a place they can “get work done” in an exclusive interview with CN in August.
Darren James, managing director of Costain’s infrastructure division, also saw “a vote of confidence in the UK nuclear energy sector, which is a critical plank in this government’s commitment to moving Britain towards a low carbon economy”.
He added: “Winning work in nuclear new build remains an important part of our strategy.”
Engineering consultancy WSP’s energy director Scot Parkhurst said: “This is long awaited good news - nuclear power plays an import role in supporting the UK’s energy mix and we need to push on with the programme to ensure we have energy security in the future.
“Although Hitachi will now need to go through the generic design assessment for its plant technology, which will delay the construction programme further, the acquisition should still improve confidence in the UK nuclear new build market for both suppliers and investors.”
Generic design assessment is a process in which Hitachi will work with Rolls Royce to bring its Advanced Boiling Water reactor design to the stage where it can be licensed for UK use.
Rolls Royce’s agreement with Hitachi will see it work on the design assessment, manufacture of reactor core components and safety control instrumentation. Babcock will also work on developing the reactors.
Mr Davey also today announced the establishment of a new Nuclear Industry Council, which will be chaired jointly by government and industry, to develop the UK nuclear industry.
He said no public subsidy was on the cards for the reactors, and the “long-term certainty needed by all clean energy investors” would be provided by the forthcoming Energy Bill. A nuclear supply chain action plan is set to be formulated by December.
Mr Davey said: “I don’t think we’d be here today if investors like Hitachi didn’t like the reforms we’re making in our overall policy for nuclear.”