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Monday, November 30, 2009

French watchdog concerned over nuclear skills


France’s nuclear watchdog has expressed concern over the loss of skills in the atomic energy industry after a near 20-year gap in building reactors.

In an interview with the Financial Times, André-Claude Lacoste, head of the French Nuclear Safety Authority, said:

“The relaunch of construction, and monitoring that relaunch, are not simple. We have to regain experience. We have not built reactors for more than 15 years.”

Lacoste said this issue was preoccupying all countries embarking on new nuclear construction.

“We discuss this often with our international colleagues,” Lacoste said. “They have the same problem as us. How can an authority which may have lost some of its habits monitor the construction of a reactor when the construction groups have also got out of the habit?”

The issue will be of particular concern to the UK industry, where the construction of 10 new stations has just been approved.

The UK has less nuclear capacity than France and suffers from a similar skills gap.

The last nuclear station to be built in the UK, at Sizewell in Suffolk, was completed in 1995.

A recent report by the Aldersgate Group pointed out that EDF's nuclear arm in Britain is expecting to see about a third of its staff retire in the next 10 years.

The UK government set up a nuclear skills academy to improve training two years ago.

The academy oversaw the opening of a training centre in the North West, and another centre will open in the South West next year.

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