The current state of the global nuclear industry – An interview with Keith Parker
Published: 16 May 2017
An interview with newly appointed ECL Global non-executive director, Keith Parker on what's happening right now in nuclear.
EJL: Can you tell me more about your experience as CEO of the Nuclear Industry Association?
KP: I was appointed Chief Executive of NIA in September 2003, shortly after the Government’s 2003 Energy white paper had more or less dismissed nuclear energy as an option in Britain’s future energy mix. Yet NIA, with the support of and on behalf of its members, continued to make the case strongly and persuasively for nuclear new build in its engagement with Government and other influential parties. In 2006 Tony Blair announced that because of concerns about energy security as Britain became more dependent on imported energy, and climate change, nuclear was “back on the agenda with a vengeance”. Since then we have seen the development of a substantial programme of new nuclear build at 5 sites in England and Wales, entailing huge investment; a prospect that appeared almost unthinkable just over a decade ago.
At the same time, we have made significant progress in decommissioning the legacy nuclear sites under the direction of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, established in 2005.
When I retired from NIA last year work on the construction of the first new nuclear station in a generation at Hinkley Point by EDF had begun in earnest. I was proud of the role NIA had played in preparing the industry and companies in the supply chain for the exciting challenges and opportunities that the nuclear sector offers.
EJL: You recently partnered with Nuclear Recruitment business ‘ECL Global’ as a Non-Executive Director. What is about the company that attracted you into this venture and how can they add value to potential clients in the nuclear sector?
KP: I am very impressed by ECL’s drive and professionalism, and by their track record in recruiting high quality, specialist personnel for major companies in the energy sector. They already have an excellent reputation and success in the oil and gas sector, but are rapidly extending their operations and expertise into nuclear. ECL’s main focus in the nuclear sector has been with new build activities globally, and I am keen to work with them to apply their expertise to the opportunities, particular in new build , here in the UK, but also overseas.
EJL: There is a clear need for increased nuclear generating capacity across the world right now. Can you tell me more about this and what needs to be done to support this need?
KP: The International Energy Agency (IEA) and the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) stated in their Technology Roadmap 2015 that global nuclear capacity needs to more than double by 2050 if the carbon reductions required to meet the 2 degrees Celsius target defined by the Paris Climate Change agreements are to be achieved. That environmental imperative, combined with the growing demand for electricity particularly in developing economies, places great pressure on governments to create the right market conditions to incentivise major investment in nuclear, and for the international industry to have the capacity, skills and expertise to deliver projects successfully to time and budget.
EJL: Do you see the skills shortage currently affecting the nuclear industry worsening with the introduction of new projects such as Hinkley Point C? (i.e. increased demand for skills but not supply)
KP: Great efforts have been made to address the skills gap in nuclear over the past few years, and the excellent work by bodies like the National Skills Academy for Nuclear, the Nuclear Skills Strategy Group, and the joint government/industry Nuclear Industry Council, as well as by companies across the supply chain, will continue to ensure we have the skills in place to deliver the range of projects across the sector. But we cannot be complacent because the sheer numbers of skilled personnel needed to build and operate the UK’s nuclear programmes is immensely challenging. The Government estimate that the UK nuclear workforce will have to grow from around 70000 now to 98000 by 2021 to deliver the nation’s ambitious programmes of new build, decommissioning and defence projects.
EJL: What do you think is the most effective way the nuclear industry can address the skills shortage?
KP: An emphasis on education and training in scientific, technical and engineering subjects and an increased awareness of the opportunities throughout the industry are essential to build the skilled workforce for the future. But that takes time, and there is an urgent need to identify and recruit talented and skilled individuals now. ECL have successfully sourced a variety of personnel with skill sets including design, construction and commissioning and are compiling a database and global network of some of the best talent in the industry. Moreover, their experience and expertise in oil and gas could assist greatly in the transfer of skills into nuclear which is an important source of talent and experience.
EJL: Which countries/regions can you see really stepping up their involvement in nuclear power right now?
KP: The benefits of nuclear energy for its energy supply, economic, industrial and environmental benefits are increasingly being acknowledged and recognised throughout the world. There is significant new build in Asia, particularly in China, but in Europe too several countries, including Bulgaria, Finland, France, Hungary, Poland, Romania and of course here in the UK are currently planning or undertaking new nuclear build programmes.
There are, in addition, new initiatives, such as the development of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) that offer exciting opportunities for the industry well into the future.
EJL: How important do you consider recruitment within the nuclear industry to be at this time and why?
KP: The identification and recruitment of skilled and experienced personnel to the nuclear industry is crucially important. The pressures to deliver new build and decommissioning projects successfully, safely, to time and on budget are immense. The quality of the workforce available to developers, contractors and companies throughout the nuclear supply chain is going to be the major factor in contributing to the industry’s success.