With the government committed to nuclear power as part of the UK's energy mix, it's a great industry to enter for those seeking roles in engineering, science or project management
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.
Careers in the nuclear industry
According to the trade association Energy UK, nuclear power currently provides around a fifth (21%) of the UK's electricity from 15 reactors.
While there are plans to increase this to about a quarter by 2025, many of the existing nuclear power stations are ageing and are due to close by 2035. The government's strategy is to replace these - and the country's remaining coal-fired power stations - with new nuclear plants.
The £23billion plant being constructed at Hinkley Point in Somerset and opening in 2025 will be the UK's first new nuclear power station since the 1990s. Energy company EDF Energy has confirmed that several more will follow in the coming years - at Sizewell in Suffolk and Bradwell in Essex.
This requirement to operate current nuclear power stations, decommission old ones and build new ones means there's significant demand for researchers, scientists and engineers with specialist knowledge of the industry's technology, regulation and safety procedures.
For example, graduate nuclear engineers are needed by Sellafield Ltd to transform its nuclear site into a safe and environmentally-sound space.
Explore nuclear power careers further and discover more about the sector by visiting Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) - What is nuclear energy?
Graduate nuclear energy jobs
Statistics from the NIA show that over 61,000 people are employed in the UK's nuclear industry (2021) - a slight increase on 2020 figures.
However, the UK workforce is ageing, with a fifth of the workforce aged 55 or over, so there's clearly a skills gap that needs closing.
The Nuclear Skills Strategy Group's Nuclear Workforce Assessment (2019) forecasted that between 3,200 and 4,800 new workers would be needed every year until 2025 to meet the demand from new projects, so now's a great time to consider working in this exciting area of engineering.
The report predicted that there would continue to be increased demand for the following occupations:
- commissioning engineers
- electrical engineers
- emergency planners
- project planning and control
- reactor operation.
Therefore, having qualifications in these areas would make you attractive to employers.
It was also highlighted that only a fifth (20%) of the workforce is female, with women underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) roles. To meet the Nuclear Sector Deal target of a 40% female workforce by 2030, recruitment of at least 50% women is required over the next decade.
For information about the responsibilities and career prospects you'll experience in one of the most important roles in the industry, read 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 £26,000, rising to £27,000 in the second year.
To gain 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 range of jobs available, as it divides vacancies into six disciplines:
- environmental/waste management
- project control/management
It shows that there are openings in the nuclear industry for graduates from a range of backgrounds and career ambitions.
Nuclear energy apprenticeships
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 (IT) roles, having a degree in those subjects is likely to be the key requirement.
However, 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 (NCfN).
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 courses at different levels of education, meaning you're sure to find one that suits your needs.
If you're looking to become a nuclear engineer, you can also get into the industry by taking a degree apprenticeship - for example, the four-year Nuclear Engineer Degree Apprenticeship from EDF Energy.
These qualifications 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.
Nuclear energy courses
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 courses are available in subjects such as nuclear safety, nuclear physics, nuclear decommissioning and waste management, and nuclear engineering.
Find out more
- Get an overview of the UK's energy and utilities sector.
- Consider getting into engineering and manufacturing.
- Learn more about careers in science and pharmaceuticals.