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UK Career Opportunities: Decommissioning Nuclear Power Stations

The 21st Century isn't only seeing UK career opportunities in the construction of new nuclear power stations but also in the decommissioning of existing sites.

The roles encompass a variety of civil engineering opportunities as well as safety management and assessment and environmental management roles.

Currently the UK has 15 reactors at eight nuclear power stations supplying about 18% of our energy. All but one of these will be phased out (decommissioned) by 2025; the last one standing will remain operational until 2040. Already a further eleven stations have closed and are in the process of decommissioning.

In the meantime, the government has already agreed on new plants at several sites although they won't be investing in them. The funding will come from utility companies and foreign investment in the main. We've discussed Hinkley Point in Somerset at some which has been given the go-ahead but is facing delays.

Nuclear Power Plus Points

One of the plus points about nuclear power is that it is low on CO2 emissions once the stations are built. They are known to be reliable and efficient and much less vulnerable to price fluctuations than traditional resources.

However the cost of building and decommissioning stations is high and this falls to the investing companies. Planning and building a nuclear power station is likely to take at least 10 years even with no hitches.

In the meantime, we definitely need to encourage new builds or alternatives as there is a predicted shortfall of energy supplies around 2025. This could mean a need to import energy which is unlikely to be cheap.

The Decommissioning Process

Typically when a nuclear power station is shut down it has a 'cool down' period. This is the stage that the Wylfa site in Anglesey, North Wales is experiencing now. Following this, 'spent fuel' will be removed from the sight and taken to Sellafield in Cumbria where it will be reprocessed. At this Welsh site, it is estimated this stage will not be complete until 2026.

Reprocessing

Spent fuel from nuclear reactors is the radioactive part. At Sellafield the remaining uranium and plutonium is extracted. This not only reduces the necessity to mine more uranium - as it can be recycled as nuclear fuel, but also reduces the waste component. However these substances must be stored as radioactive until they are reused.

The residue is classified as low level waste and stored in sealed concrete vaults at a store built especially for the purpose at the Cumbrian site.

The original sites of nuclear power stations are monitored over time to assess the strength of any residual contamination. For any radioactivity to completely decay takes up to 100 years.

The Emergence of the New

Nuclear power is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. It is arguably cheaper to produce and emits less CO2. It is also estimated as cheaper than setting up many renewable sources such as off-shore wind farms. It looks as though it will be part of our energy mix for some time to come.

Four new reactors are already in the planning: two at Hinkley Point and two at Wylfa in Anglesey.

Think of the Opportunities

If the nuclear power sector has never been your bag, do you have transferable skills? This area is big and will engage as much of the workforce as the construction of new nuclear power stations in the coming years.

 

If you would like to work in this sector to ensure the UK's energy sources are brought up to speed and we aren't left in the dark, then check out our jobs section on a regular basis for opportunities as quantity surveyors, civil engineers, environmental and safety advisors, project managers and technical advisors.

Send your CV to us to make sure you don't miss out on any up-coming opportunities.

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Steve Thomas
Director - Hong Kong & UK Construction Recruitment Specialist

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