Government must reach decision on new nuclear projects to sustain workforce, industry warns

The new government is being urged to move quickly to decide on the future of proposed nuclear development projects in the UK, such as the planned Sizewell C development, in order to sustain levels of growth within the nuclear workforce, which is now at its highest level in five years.

The civil nuclear sector currently employs 64,509 people across the UK, an increase of over 3,000 compared to 2021, new figures from the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) have revealed.

The spike in numbers has been driven by the development of a pipeline of new nuclear projects across the country, including the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station which is under development in Somerset and employs around 8,000 people, up from 6,300 in 2021, at what is the largest construction site in Europe.

However, the NIA has this week warned that “urgent” investment is needed in order to sustain current levels of employment and ensure that nuclear skills are not lost as a sizeable proportion of the existing nuclear workforce prepares for retirement.

“The nuclear industry stands alone in sustaining tens of thousands of high-skilled, well-paid jobs which make a significant contribution to UK energy security and our net zero future,” said Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association.

“We can have more of these jobs and opportunities for the next generation if we get on with building new stations – both a fleet of modular reactors and large-scale plants – to meet the Government’s commitment for more secure, reliable and British power.”

The NIA estimates that Sizewell C in Suffolk could deliver thousands of new jobs, and has again urged the government to push the project to a Final Investment Decision which it says is “vital” for the future of the nuclear sector.

While plans for Sizewell C received initial approval in July this year, the proposed development has been the subject of controversy with campaigners from Together Against Sizewell C Limited (TASC) launching a legal challenge into the government’s decision, arguing the development consent had been granted unlawfully  and that the water supply can not be guaranteed in the area and as such there could be potential damage to the coastline.

Challenges against Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng’s decision have caused a delay to a final decision being granted. Sue Ferns, senior deputy general secretary, Prospect Union, urged the government to quickly make a decision on Sizewell C, stating that the nuclear lifecycle supports good quality employment as well as being vital to the UK achieving energy security and net zero.

“But none of this can be taken for granted,” she said. “Government must act now to confirm its investment decision for Sizewell C as well as setting out a clear timescale and milestones for a new build programme underpinned by a comprehensive programme of investment in workforce skills and diversity.”

“The time for warm words is over. If the PM is serious about going for growth, we now need to see practical progress.”

Innovations in advanced nuclear technology have also driven the sector’s employment record, the NIA said, with a strong and growing workforce led by Rolls-Royce developing its SMR in Derby and Warrington, creating more than 330 confirmed jobs, with as many as 6,000 in the pipeline when development gets underway.

The field of nuclear fusion research has also offered promising employment prospects. According to the NIA there are more than 2,200 people employed at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire.

The NIA called the nuclear industry “a vital engine of regional economic development”, with more than 25,700 people employed in the North West in decommissioning, fuel cycle research, reactor design and other disciplines.

In the South West, the sector employs over 15,000 people, with £4.1bn already spent across the region from the Hinkley Point C project, more than twice the initial target of £1.5bn set at the project’s outset. 

“Nuclear continues to deliver jobs growth year on year and this is welcome news. However, this is not the time for complacency we call on clear investment decisions on a new nuclear fleet and many other nuclear projects to happen without delay from the government,” said Simon Coop, Unite national officer for energy and utilities.

“This will give us a more certain path to net zero and also energy security for the UK has part of a balanced energy policy.”

However, plans for new nuclear projects in the UK remain controversial, with critics arguing proposed small modular reactor projects remain unproven while larger scale projects have proven hugely expensive compared to new renewables projects.

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