Brexit could hurt Hinkley nuclear progress

Brexit could have damaging implications for the development of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power project.

The project has already overcome legal obstacles, conflict within the EDF board, delayed UK government approval and other various issues, but Brexit now threatens the ability of the project’s developers to bring in the skilled personnel it needs to produce the facility.
Brexit illustration
City AM reports that the engineering industry, which contributes £280bn to the economy, has said that a restriction on access to skills could delay the building of major infrastructure projects such as Hinkley Point C as it increases the expense for projects if demand for skilled engineers outstrips supply.

The Royal Academy of Engineers is calling on the government to guarantee access to much-needed skills in a new report, published in the wake of Prime Minister Theresa May's move towards a so-called hard Brexit, which would include a crackdown on immigration.

Engineers are calling for the vocation to be added to the government's shortage occupation list, an index of jobs for which recruitment can be made from outside the UK. Temporary visas should be granted to those from EU countries to plug the skills gap and procedures for moving staff across borders within a business should be extended.

A nuclear industry insider, who did not wished to be named, told Power Engineering International that while there are some concerns, ultimately it should not impede the project's progress.

"It is likely that Brexit will lead to some impacts on major engineering projects but until we have a better idea of what kind of Brexit we are dealing with, and any provisos created by the government, we don’t know whether they will be large or small."

"However, it would be very short-sighted of the UK government to create headaches for infrastructure projects it has only just approved and which the country badly needs. Frankly, I don’t think it will. The government approval of Hinkley Point C was essentially the go-ahead for the UK nuclear programme. Since Horizon and NuGen are in a sense competing with the EDF consortia, and will also need access to the international supply chain and worker talent pool in order to maximise project viability, one suspects they will be subjected to the same rules."

Speaking broadly about the how the situation might affect engineering services generally, Professor Dame Ann Dowling, president of the Royal Academy of Engineers said, “Plans to trigger Article 50 raise questions about our ability to train enough skilled engineers to meet the country’s needs, to attract the brightest and best international talent to the UK to address specific skills shortages, and to collaborate with colleagues in non-UK European Union countries in a way that accelerates innovation that is of value to wider society."

In terms of specific implications for personnel required by UK nuclear, the Nuclear Industry Association's Capability Report is informative. There are currently around 40,000 people working in the UK civil nuclear industry: 25,000 employed directly plus a further 15,000 in the supply chain with many additional indirect jobs supported by nuclear industry activity.

The projected resource demand from the proposed new build programme of 16G We will increase this to around 66,500 at the peak of the new build period. Beyond this, into the operational period, the numbers will reduce to 47,000 on the basis of the 16GWe programme, with further growth if the new build programme exceeds the initial 16GWe, as is likely to be the case.

Plant and equipment supply is identified in the report found here as a particular pain point without bringing in sufficient expertise.

"The UK currently does not have the capability to supply the key items of reactor, pressure vessel, steam generators, turbine generators, ultra-large forgings and reactor coolant pumps. There are only a very few companies in the UK who could possibly develop this capability, but the cost and timescales are very demanding and the business cases for investment are currently not attractive. These key items will therefore be supplied from the few companies in the world that have this capability."

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