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Blighty admits 'national shortage' of nuke engineers

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British immigration authorities have re-classified a range of nuclear-power specialisations as "national shortage occupations" and will thus ease applications for work permits.

The move reflects a widespread perception that the somewhat moribund UK nuclear workforce will be unable to handle the planned renewal - and possible expansion - of the country's atomic power base.

According to the UK Border Agency, "27 engineering occupations, specific to the electricity generation industry" are now classed as "national shortage", and so are "high integrity pipe welders". The 27 kinds of engineer not to be found in old Blighty specifically include:

system health engineer (nuclear)

design engineer (nuclear)

work cycle planner (nuclear)

reactor physicist

assistant reactor physicist

Others listed include civil and mechanical engineers in the power-generation field, though these specialists would also be handy for non-nuclear installations.

As for the pipe welders, their inclusion is almost definitely a nuclear requirement. Issues around insufficiently high-quality pipe welding paralysed much of the UK nuclear submarine fleet in 2000 after the pressurised-water circuit of HMS Tireless sprang a leak. It seems fair to say that Blighty could probably use some help here, the more so as the new UK nuke stations will most likely use French pressurised water technology. The Financial Times reports today that French reactor builders hope to dominate the new UK nuke-powerplant generation - to the dismay of US rival Westinghouse, now owned by Toshiba.

It appears that Westinghouse's main hope of getting some business away from the huge and successful French nuke industry was that the British government might insist that more than one kind of reactor be used, in order to ensure competition. But it seems that the UK will be happy to see French technology used throughout, provided it is owned and operated by more than one generating company.

Overall, the British engineering/white-collar unions are probably right to expect a bonanza out of new British nuclear: but it seems that a lot of the really skilled work may be done by foreigners. Specifically, by Frenchies.

But not to worry, Blighty isn't becoming a technologically ignorant banana-republic style country. We still sell things to France. Top UK export to France last year, according to our diplomatic service? (pdf page 6)

Oh. It's oil, actually... ®

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