Confidence in new nuclear grows in UK but women remain sceptical

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Support for the construction of new nuclear power plants in the UK has grown by more than 10 per cent over the past decade, but there remains a noticeable gap in attitudes between men and women towards the sector.

In all, 45 per cent of the population approve the building of new reactors, according to the latest Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) poll, but the persistent distrust exhibited by female respondents towards the technology concerned speakers at the NIA’s conference last week who say more must be done to reassure women and engender a more positive outlook.

Of those polled, 57 per cent of men were favourable towards more nuclear being added to the country’s power mix, with just 26 per cent of women of a similar view.

More than two-thirds (68 per cent) of those who support the construction of new reactors to replace existing ones do so because of concerns about the UK's energy self-sufficiency. Some 66 per cent said they believe new reactors could reduce reliance on coal and gas.

Again women weren’t quiet as confident in the role nuclear can play in meeting that concern, with 54 per cent of female respondents believing in nuclear’s potential to address British energy security, compared to 75 per cent of male respondents.

Furthermore 58 per cent of men felt more nuclear could create greater energy price stability as against just 33 per cent of women.

Concerns about public safety were cited by 39 per cent of those questioned as the main disadvantage of nuclear energy, down from 46 per cent in 2012.

But it was the lopsided nature of responses specific to the genders that dominated conversation at the industry event where the poll was unveiled.

There was also a panel discussion on the failure of the industry to recruit more women into its ranks.

Presenting the US experience, Marilyn Kray, vice president of Exelon Nuclear Partners said the industry needed to work at improving its diversity and also to create a community and environment where women can feel welcome.

Miranda Kirschel, Head of European Business Development, Nuclear for Atkins concurred with that opinion, saying “the industry needs to see unconscious bias, and look at flexibility, HR culture, location, and overall the creation of an environment that’s more attractive for women.”

“It’s also about creating more visibility of the women in our companies. Creating an image of an industry which isn’t just male dominated, but one that women can relate to, understand the hazards, and know what an exciting, innovative field it is to go into and encourage them to go into it.”

Marilyn Kray added that the industry could ill afford to ignore women when a potential skills shortage is at hand: ”It’s not about favouring women over men – demand is going up but supply is limited due to lack of new people coming into the sector – we can’t afford to discriminate against any of the community.”

Ms Kray also noted the poll’s findings and what it said about female attitudes to nuclear’s role in tackling climate change and energy security.

“Typically women ARE more outspoken and very opposed to nuclear energy – they tend to be educated but not necessarily informed,” she said before adding that the industry need to do more to communicate effectively with women, and gain trust.

Taking on that theme of trust, NIA chief executive Keith Parker said, "The UK is on the cusp of a major program of nuclear new build and the industry has to make sure that people trust and understand the sector."

He said, "If we don't build new nuclear power, the country will lose almost a fifth of its generating capacity, carbon dioxide emissions will rise, and the country would become more dependent on imported energy - something which concerns a large number of people."

Referring to the results of the latest poll, Parker said it is "clear that industry and government need to engage openly and build greater understanding about what radioactive waste is. The British industry is successfully decommissioning old nuclear plants and that expertise is being used across the world. We should be proud of that."

In a separate discussion about the UK’s Wylfa site, Horizon’s chief operating officer, Alan Raymant was asked if the government’s apparent new policy towards emigration would have an impact on the sector’s ability to secure the necessary expertise needed.

“We need to make sure that we can deliver to time and cost because it’s our money – if emigration rules tighten we must present a stronger case to make sure we have the skills to deliver.”



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