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Ministers are to set up a task force to co-ordinate the training of tens of thousands of British workers needed to build atomic power stations and nuclear-powered submarines.
The move follows warnings that the UK lacks the skilled workers needed to deliver on the government’s target of building 24GW of new nuclear power-generating capacity by 2050.
Over the same period, the defence sector will also need to build up its base of skilled nuclear engineers and technicians as part of an extensive submarine building programme for the British and Australian navies after the signing of the tripartite Aukus pact, which also involves the US, earlier this year.
Under plans announced on Tuesday, the government will establish a Nuclear Skills Taskforce to develop a “skills strategy” to support industry as it looks to recruit people to fill a range of roles in the defence and civil nuclear sectors.
The cross-governmental task force will be chaired by Sir Simon Bollom, the former chief executive of the procurement arm of the Ministry of Defence. It will include representatives from the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero and the Department for Education, as well as from industry.
“By developing nuclear skills, we are not just investing in the UK economy but our national security,” said James Cartlidge, minister for defence procurement.
The creation of the task force would “challenge the whole of the UK’s nuclear sector to be ambitious in addressing the nuclear skills gap”, he added.
The government has put nuclear power at the heart of Britain’s ambitions to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and bolster its energy security.
But a report by the House of Commons science, innovation and technology committee warned on Monday that the nuclear workforce of about 65,000 would “need to more than double” if the UK was to meet its target of building 24GW of atomic generating capacity.
Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said he hoped the task force would “go a long way in helping us reach the 200,000 or so jobs needed” to deliver on the target.
But he also called on the government to lay out a “clear path” as to what type of reactors it wanted to replace ageing UK nuclear power stations “so we can deliver on jobs and energy security”.
A similar expansion of skills will be required on the military side. BAE Systems builds all the submarines for the Royal Navy at its yard at Barrow-in-Furness.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace said in January he expected the headcount at the yard to rise eventually to 17,000 from 10,000 to build four Dreadnought submarines, the new class of boats that will carry the UK’s nuclear deterrent, as well as the Aukus programme of new attack submarines.
A recent survey by ADS Group, the aerospace, defence and space trade body, found that 60 per cent of its members said workforce and skills shortages were having a significant impact on their businesses.
“Finding solutions to the skills shortages and recruitment challenges is one of the biggest factors in our sectors’ future successes,” said Paul Oxley, director of government relations and policy at ADS.