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Monday, March 10, 2008

French nuclear sector risks serious lack of staff

France, the world's second largest producer of atomic energy, must act fast to avoid a shortage of skilled staff to run its reactors and win a role at the heart of a global nuclear revival.
An ageing workforce, a lack of courses and low enthusiasm among young engineers, for a field that is often seen as secretive or unsafe, all threaten France's ambitions for nuclear power.
"The ageing workforce issue is keeping countless CEOs awake at night," consultancy firm Capgemini said in a report titled "Preparing for the nuclear power renaissance".
Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are retiring. This is being felt acutely in the energy and utilities sector.
"The impact is likely to be more pronounced for nuclear power, because of special training, experience and licensing criteria," the Capgemini report said.
The number of schools that train nuclear engineers and plant operators has halved in the last 25 years, it said.
France, with 58 nuclear reactors, is counting on its expertise to win lucrative contracts if, as it hopes, many countries choose atomic power to increase their energy security and combat global warming.
It also needs to replace retiring staff at home.
"French utility EDF is in a state of alert, like many other nuclear operators, as plants date back from the 1970s or 1980s," said Laurent Turpin, head of the France's National Institute for Nuclear Science and Technology (INSTN).
Turpin estimated EDF needs to hire 10,000 new employees in the next 10 years, with half of them specialised in nuclear.
"This means 500 new engineers per year, including 20 percent for their international projects," he said, adding that only 350 nuclear engineers per year were currently graduating.
In the next three years, France must train around 1,000 nuclear engineers annually to make up for the decline, he said.
(read more)
(Source: Reuters)

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