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Sector LMI - Nuclear

There have been significant shifts in attitudes towards nuclear power, as it could be a crucial part of securing a green solution to the energy needs of the UK. There is now a greater need to reduce carbon emissions and the UK’s dependence on oil and gas for energy production. In the UK, there are plans for nuclear power and an indication that new nuclear power stations will be built to replace decommissioned stations. However, this would be a multimillion pound investment, requiring a highly skilled workforce.

There are job opportunities, both in the civil and defence sectors, but employment is predominantly in the civil nuclear industry. The UK has 19 power generation reactors in operation and 15 nuclear powered submarines. There is ongoing need for the operation and maintenance of these reactors and submarines extending to 2035. The growth area of nuclear industry activity in the UK is in decommissioning and clean up, with 21 reactors in decommissioning and two more due to enter this phase in the next two years.

British Nuclear Fuels dominates nuclear fuel processing in the UK. Its activities span the entire nuclear cycle, from reactor design and fuel manufacture to nuclear site decommissioning and clean-up of waste.

Key facts

  • Across the world, nuclear power provides 16% of global electricity requirements.
  • In the future, there will be an unprecedented world-wide demand for nuclear expertise.
  • Future skill needs can be resourced in the UK, but there will be greater worldwide engagement in the industry and greater competition for opportunities.
  • The UK is the 10th highest nuclear generating country globally.
    There is an estimated 49,500 employees in the sector, across 200 employing organisations.
  • The last UK nuclear power station is due to close in 2035, but plans are underway for new replacement power stations.

Nuclear workforce

  • 18% of the workforce is female.
  • 96% of the workforce is white.
  • Only 6% of workforce is 16-24 years, 28% 25-34 years, 35% 35-44 years, and 31% is over 45 years.
  • The nuclear workforce is older than the general workforce and is suffering from an accelerating retirement rate.

Education and training

There will be a significant loss of highly trained and experienced personnel over the coming years which will need replacing. There are too many people employed in the industry with Level 1 and below jobs and more people are needed with Level 2 and 3 qualifications.

The sector needs to quadruple the number of apprentices over the next five years. The Apprenticeship in Specialized Process Operations (Nuclear Options) has been designed for those entering the Nuclear industry. The prospect of new nuclear build has increased the number of students on postgraduate programmes and two new nuclear degree courses have been established. Graduate development programmes are also on the increase.

The National Skills Academies for the process and nuclear industries will accredit in-house training to ensure quality and consistency as well as help with transferability within and across the sector.

Salary levels

The UK’s median weekly earnings for those in the processing of nuclear fuel is £563.70. Some average earnings for selected occupations include:

  • Nuclear engineer: graduate trainees usually earn between £20,000 - £25,000 a year, whilst experienced engineers can earn between £30,000 - £50,000.
  • Scientist engineer: £24,000 - £40,000 per year depending on experience, skills, qualifications and management experience.
  • Science technician: £20,000 - £33,000 per year depending on experience, skills and qualifications.

Future prospects

When the plans to replace decommissioned nuclear power stations have been determined, it is expected that there will be significant growth in the industry. However, current projects to manage the decommissioning process means that prospects for the sector are promising and there are high replacement demands.

The industry will require a thousand new recruits every year if the current level of nuclear power generation is to be maintained to 2025 and beyond. The forecast requirement for new entrants to the nuclear industry by 2015 is between 3,400 and 11,500. If early retirements occur, this could rise to 16,500. Growth occupations in the industry to 2025 are Skilled Trades and Associate Professionals and Technicians.

In the defence sector, a build programme of submarines continues alongside the studies to replace the national deterrent. This suggests that there will a need for new entrants with the skills to undertake this work.

In the civil sector, the decommissioning of legacy sites continues, requiring a major re-skilling of their workforce. The prospects for new build will also require a new training and education programme. Many of the skills required may come from the engineering and construction industries.


NGRF - LMI Futures Trends


National Careers Service - job profiles

Graduate Prospects

World Nuclear Association

Energy Zone

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