The UK government's commitment to nuclear power as part of the country's energy supply means there are many opportunities for engineers and scientists, as well as project managers and safety experts, to forge a career in the industry
While always controversial, nuclear power is an area of the energy and utilities sector that's at the forefront of technological and scientific development. Plans to build a wave of new nuclear power stations means there's high demand for talented graduates.
Overview of the UK nuclear industry
Nuclear power currently provides around a fifth of the UK's electricity. According to the trade association Energy UK, the plan is to increase this to about a quarter by 2025.
However, the eight existing nuclear power stations are ageing and all are due to close by 2035. As it stands, the government's strategy is to replace these - and the country's remaining coal-fired power stations - with new nuclear plants.
The £20bn plant being constructed at Hinkley Point in Somerset will be the UK's first new nuclear power station since the 1990s, and several more are expected to follow in the coming years.
This requirement to operate current nuclear power stations, decommission old ones and build new ones means there is significant demand for researchers, scientists and engineers with specialist knowledge of the industry's technology, regulation and safety procedures.
Explore further by visiting Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) - industry issues.
Graduate nuclear energy jobs
Statistics from the NIA show that 155,000 jobs are directly or indirectly supported by the industry, but the workforce is ageing and there's a skills gap that now needs closing.
The Nuclear Skills Strategy Group's Nuclear Workforce Assessment 2017 forecasts that peak demand for workers will be in 2021, when 100,000 full-time employees will be needed.
The report predicts that 'pinch points' are especially likely for occupations including electrical engineers, reactor operation, project planning and control, emergency planners and chemists - so qualifications in these areas will make you very attractive to employers.
For information about the responsibilities and career prospects you'll experience in one of the most important roles in the industry, see the nuclear engineer job profile, which also explains how to get your career started.
One way the industry is attempting to reduce the skills shortage is through the nucleargraduates scheme. This is a two-year graduate programme created by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and funded by industry employers that act as sponsors.
Graduates join employers in one of three areas - engineering, science or commercial - on a starting salary of £25,000, rising to £26,000 in the second year.
To win a place you'll need to apply online, complete online tests and a video interview, and attend a two-day assessment centre. Visit the website to find out when the next round of applications opens.
Meanwhile, you can find a list of graduate schemes with individual employers that operate in the industry at the National Skills Academy for Nuclear (NSAN).
You can also search for graduate nuclear jobs or visit a specialist industry recruitment website such as nuclearsectorjobs.co.uk - this gives a good indication of the diverse range of jobs available, as it divides vacancies into six disciplines:
- environmental/waste management
- project control/management
This shows that there are openings in the nuclear industry for graduates from a range of backgrounds and with various career ambitions.
Nuclear energy courses
Should you decide to pursue a career in the nuclear industry, you'll need to ensure you have the right qualifications. For engineering, scientific and information technology roles, having a degree in those subjects is likely to be the key requirement.
If you want to take a further or higher education course or apprenticeship that will prepare you specifically for a career in the nuclear industry, start with the National College for Nuclear.
With bases in Somerset and Cumbria, this is one of five national colleges delivering high-tech training in key sectors, formed through a partnership of employers, regulators, skills bodies and training providers. Its website lists a vast array of different courses at different levels of education, meaning you're sure to find one that suits your needs.
You can also get into the industry by taking a degree apprenticeship. These give you the chance to study for a degree at the same time as gaining on-the-job training and experience. Find out more general information about degree apprenticeships or see a list of employers offering apprenticeships in the nuclear industry at NSAN.
For those who want to take their academic study to the next level, you can also search for postgraduate courses in nuclear energy-related subjects.
These are available in a variety of subjects such as nuclear safety, nuclear physics, nuclear decommissioning and waste management, and nuclear engineering.
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